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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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