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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Unusual film gets atypical - but excellent - Williams music for small ensemble


For such a quintessentially American composer, John Williams's forays into the western genre have been surprisingly few and far between.  By far his most familiar works are those for Mark Rydell's The Reivers and The Cowboys (both written a few years before Williams hit the real big time), but in the mid-70s (and just after Jaws propelled him into the limelight) Williams scored Arthur Penn's The Missouri Breaks, featuring a truly bizarre Marlon Brando performance.  It was the one and only pairing between two of Hollywood's most iconic figures (and good friends), Brando and Jack Nicholson; Brando's eccentricities on the screen led to initially scathing reviews, but in later years also contributed to the movie achieving something of a cult status.

Williams's music is small.  Very small.  For a composer who never seems able to resist an opportunity to write the biggest music he can imagine, this is quite something, and I have to say it's truly refreshing to hear Williams write in such a laid-back style and not take everything so seriously!  The music for The Missouri Breaks is performed by a modest ensemble of "American" instruments like harmonica, guitars of various descriptions, bass and percussion for a decidedly bluegrass feel (there's occasionally a very small orchestra too).  As always with Williams, the themes are the key, and even here he creates a few memorable ones.  The "Love Theme" is certainly attractive and appears a few times in different guises; the more up-tempo "Arrival of the Rustlers" and "Crossing the Missouri" will bring a smile to anyone's face; and there's some source music too, like "Celebration".  "Remembrances" is a beautiful, touching piece of music that shows just how much a good composer can do even with such modest resources.

There are some more dramatic passages (not least the opening title sequence) - "The Chase" and "The Horse Rustlers" are extremely dark, featuring some decidedly Goldsmithian piano jabs, the sort of writing Williams has done quite rarely, but always does so well.  Indeed, the same thing could be said of the whole score.  There are certain similarities with the earlier The Reivers and the (much) later Rosewood, but these are somewhat fleeting and The Missouri Breaks occupies a place all by itself in the composer's long and distinguished list of scores.  This album is a straight reissue of the previous Rykodisc release (featuring three bonus tracks of the original soundtrack recordings - the album as a whole is a re-recording, as was customary for Williams) and features fine liner notes by Jerry McCulley.  For an alternative view of Williams, it comes highly recommended, though with the caveat that those who enjoy him for his big orchestral works more than anything else may be in for something of a surprise.

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  1. The Missouri Breaks (2:47)
  2. Arrival of the Rustlers (2:02)
  3. Love Theme (2:56)
  4. The Train Robbery (2:17)
  5. Bizarre Wake (2:48)
  6. Celebration (2:15)
  7. Confrontation (3:17)
  8. Love Theme (reprise) (3:43)
  9. Crossing the Missouri (2:13)
  10. The Chase (3:26)
  11. Remembrances (2:24)
  12. The Horse Rustlers (2:16)
  13. End Title (3:24)
  14. The Missouri Breaks (alternate) (2:34)
  15. Train Robbery (alternate) (2:17)
  16. Jane and Logan (3:48)