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The Young Riders
  • Composed by John Debney
  • La-La Land Records / 2011 / 62:35

A western tv series, The Young Riders sees a group of journeymen who joined the Pony Express in the period leading up to the American Civil War.  A decent cast was assembled (Anthony Zerbe, Josh Brolin, Stephen Baldwin) and the series attracted a lot of fans in its three-year run; for this website’s purposes, it was perhaps most notable as the real breakthrough for composer John Debney.  Debney had worked in television steadily throughout much of the 1980s; the success of his musical contribution to The Young Riders meant he barely did again, as his film career took off.  This album from La-La Land represents the first time any music from the show has been released.  The album opens with the terrific main theme (a reminder of the days when tv shows actually had theme music), then three episodes’ scores are represented – it’s interesting how individual Debney makes the different episodes sound.

The first show presented here is, naturally enough, the pilot episode (“The Kid”).  Debney’s ensemble is a small rock-based combination of guitars, harmonica, percussion and keyboards and it’s an interesting sound produced.  As with the best episodic television music, the composer takes inspiration from the small group of players rather than seeing it as a limitation, and still manages to produce some expansive music, much of which is based on the fabulous main theme.  “The Gunfighter” features a darker sound, more heavy on the synths, with dueling slide guitars playing a prominent role.  Finally, what will I suspect be the highlight for many, “Kansas” – from the second season – represents the larger music budget afforded to the composer by adding an orchestra to the mix (and Debney won an Emmy for his work on this episode).  It’s serious, sometimes moving stuff (the episode is about slavery), with some voices heard too, interpolations of “Amazing Grace” appearing throughout – it’s fine music.  Indeed, this is an enjoyable album – the composer would go on to bigger and better things, but it’s fascinating to hear his breakthrough work (and fitting that the album is produced by Ford A. Thaxton, a champion of Debney for as long as I can remember).  Very enjoyable!  ***

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