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Album cover copyright (c) 2005 Europacorp; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall



Delightfully quirky score for modern day western 


Marco Beltrami has firmly established himself as one of the finest composers around in recent years, with a string of excellent scores which show a young composer with a musical personality and voice of his own and one who is not afraid to experiment and try unorthodox things.  Unfortunately, the movies he has been scoring have generally been wretched, with such abberations as Scream 3, Dracula 2000, Joy Ride, Resident Evil, Cursed and Red Eye on the list since the turn of the century alone.  However, much like Jerry Goldsmith in his prime, even if he doesn't necessarily get assigned to good movies, Beltrami seems to have a habit of getting ones which allow him to explore unusual musical avenues.  It was only a matter of time before he got the chance to do that on a film of quality, and the chance came in 2005 with Tommy Lee Jones's directorial debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a kind of modern-day western in which a man fulfils a promise to his best friend by taking his body to Mexico after his death.

Jones is an intelligent and gifted actor, and it's no surprise to see him choose a film like this to direct; he has always been at his best in westerns (though it's admittedly a pretty long way from Lonesome Dove to this).  He picked just the right composer for the job, too, with Beltrami able to latch on to all of the film's quirks and craft a wonderfully inventive little score.  It's performed by a small ensemble consisting of two violins, viola, cello, various guitars, accordion, ethnic winds, percussion, vocals and electronics.  The whole ambience and slightly wacky, off-beat nature of the score reminds me very much of Ennio Morricone's bizarre U-Turn music, which is certainly no bad thing.

Those seeking tuneful fun should look elsewhere, since there isn't much of it, with Beltrami instead creating highly atmospheric music, full of little quirks, and relying little on melody to carry him through.  It's genuinely difficult to describe (you may have noticed), but works wonderfully well.  There are a couple of more tuneful moments, such as the lovely lament in "Leaving Town" and melancholic accordion-led theme heard in "Gift Horse", which again seems to be a very slight nod to Morricone.  It is wistful and gorgeous.  The delightfully comic "Can't Keep It Up" features loads of percussion, with layer upon layer appearing before a violin appears to add a hint of melody.  It's another fine cue.  The closest the score comes to action music is "Pete Confronts Sheriff", featuring some wild, strumming guitars, but it's over almost before it begins.  The score selections come to an end with the lovely, emotional "Goodbye".  

Along with just over half an hour of score music by Beltrami are several songs, by the likes of Dwight Yoakam (who also appears as an actor in the film), Hank Williams Jr and Merle Haggard; pick of the bunch is a new song, "Donde Estas Papa", by the outstanding Lila Downs.  I usually object to songs thrown haphazardly through a score, but in this case it's clear that somebody has thought long and hard about how best to incorporate the songs and score in a way that works, and it certainly does work.  This is a relatively minor effort by Beltrami, admittedly, but is still very impressive and it's great to hear a composer not afraid to write music which actually has a distinctive personality.

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  1. Three Burials of Melquiades (2:03)
  2. Cinco Aņos (1:18)
  3. Fair to Midland Dwight Yoakam (3:25)
  4. Leaving Town (2:20)
  5. Mike Runs Off (3:59)
  6. I Wonder Who'll Turn Out the Light Bobby Flores (2:58)
  7. Gift Horse (1:59)
  8. Can't Keep It Up (2:49)
  9. The Cheatin' Hotel Hank Williams Jr (5:11)
  10. Entering Town (1:16)
  11. Fleeing Illegals (1:18)
  12. This Could Be the One Flaco Jimenez (2:48)
  13. Horse of Death (1:35)
  14. Pete Confronts Sheriff (1:17)
  15. Stalking Mike (1:31)
  16. Workin' Man Blues Merle Haggard (2:42)
  17. Shoot Me (1:33)
  18. House Building (1:12)
  19. Before the Next Teardrop Falls Freddie Fender (2:32)
  20. No Jimenez (2:21)
  21. Forgiveness (2:04)
  22. Goodbye (2:45)
  23. You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd Roger Miller (1:54)
  24. Donde Estas Papa Lila Downs (5:04)