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Album running time

1: Benediction and Dream Lila Downs (2:31)
2: The Floating Bed (1:29)
3: El Conejo Los Cojolites (2:29)
4: Paloma Negra Chavela Vargas (3:17)
5: Self-Portrait with Hair Down (1:09)
6: Alcoba Azul Lila Downs (1:36)
7: Carabina 30/30 El Poder del Norte (2:43)
8: Solo Tu (1:22)
9: El Gusto Trio Huasteco Caimanes de Tamuin (2:18)
10: The Journey (2:56)
11: El Antifaz Liberación (2:28)
12: The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (:48)
13: La Cavalera (1:40)
14: La Bruja Salma Heyek and Los Vega (1:57)
15: Portrait of Lupe (2:13)
16: La Llorona Chavela Vargas (2:22)
17: Estrella Oscura Lila Downs (1:48)
18: Still Life (1:31)
19: Viva la Vida Trio and Marimberos (2:16)
20: The Departure (2:13)
21: Coyoacán and Variations (2:34)
22: La Llorona Lila Downs (2:20)
23: Burning Bed (1:08)
24: Burn it Blue Caetano Veloso and Lila Downs (5:28)

Performed by
Conducted by

Orchestrated by

Engineered by
Edited by
Produced by

Released by
Serial number
289 474 150-2

Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Miramax Film Corp.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall

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Goldenthal goes down Mexico way

Julie Taymor's Titus, her adaptation of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus", is one of the great films of the 1990s (and beyond); almost limitless in scope and ambition, Taymor brought her acclaimed vision from the theatre to the cinema. Key to it was the score, by her partner Elliot Goldenthal, an extraordinary work that deserves to be placed alongside the great film scores of the century. In every scene, it was as if everything had been choreographed to the music (though of course, it hadn't); every scene was given a unique and meaningful musical identity in keeping with the wild mixture of visual styles, and yet the music flowed wonderfully throughout. Taymor's follow-up is a biopic of the great Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Having your partner as director must be like a dream for a film composer. Of course it doesn't mean limitless freedom, but it does surely mean more understanding and ultimately more opportunity. Goldenthal is renowned for his pitch black, deadly serious scores for serious drama and for his larger-than-life music for colourful action movies. Unfortunately he has not been blessed with some of the greatest films to score (Batman and Robin, Alien 3, Demolition Man, the list goes on) but without fail he has risen above the gutter level on which the films exist and written scores of genuine freshness and excitement. But Frida offers something new: the opportunity to write music like none he has written before, romance on a large scale.

He took the only route to go, to look to Mexican music for inspiration. Thus his music is dominated by the guitar, boasting wonderfully detailed writing and playing (the latter by Francisco Navarro), and elements of vocal Mexican folk music. The most beautiful of the guitar pieces is probably "La Cavalera". The orchestra also has a part to play: usually as backing for guitar pieces, but sometimes left to flourish by itself. The other most dominant instrument is the piano; its solo in "Still Life" is enough to make you weep. It's a piece of wonderful beauty. Of course, Kahlo's life was hardly an easy ride, and this is reflected in some much more tragic pieces, and even a piece verging on musique concrète, "Estrella Oscura".

The vocal music on the album is a mixture of traditional songs and original Goldenthal compositions, most noteworthy among the latter being "Burn it Blue", an extraordinary song with lyrics by Taymor, performed by Caetano Veloso and Lila Downs. While songs in films rarely rise above the level of mass-marketed youth material these days, this is a song that is relevant to the film, actually means something dramatically, and creates a huge impression on the listener.

Goldenthal's albums are rarely what you might term "easy listening", but this one can be taken on that level, and has thus attracted more praise than probably any of his other scores. I find this quite ironic because on a technical level, it's probably the least interesting album he's ever put out; no reflection of a lack of quality in Frida, just a reflection on the mass of quality in his other work. It's an atypical score for Goldenthal (though nobody with knowledge of the composer's body of work could mistake it for anyone else - he does have a unique voice - check out the shimmering strings in "Burning Bed") which has garnered much critical acclaim: it has already won the Golden Globe and at the time of writing is nominated for Oscars for song and score. I can't fail to recommend it, though with the caveat that if you're expecting more of what you've heard from in the past, you're likely to be disappointed. It's a very strong album.

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