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 PCD 147

Artwork copyright (c) 1997 Morgan Creek Productions, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



The great oudoors...


Along with fellow American composers Bruce Broughton and Cliff Eidelman, Joel McNeely must be one of the most underutilised by the film industry.  Like those others, he is capable of writing colourful and expressive orchestral music for more expansive films but, like those others, seems very rarely given the opportunity to do so.  Originally (rather unfortunately) he was painted as "the next John Williams" thanks to more than a little hint of the world's favourite composer's greatest hits in his early music, but this possibly hindered him more than it helped him in the long run - after all, producers of "John Williams movies" will just go to Williams, and there are many composers out there fighting for the scraps that are left.  Unlike the other two, McNeely does still have a relatively active time of things in the world of theatrical motion pictures, but these aren't often of the sort that can inspire great music, and even less often do they see a soundtrack release featuring any score.

Wild America is a beautiful showcase of what the composer is capable.  A family tale of a group of boys who set out on a summer adventure to seek out endangered animals, it's the sort of film that is a dream come true for a talented composer, and McNeely lovingly evokes the spirit of the great American outdoors in much the same way that Broughton has done on numerous occasions (mostly in his westerns).  There is certainly a hint of the old west in the opening title piece, with its opening fiddle solo and later more rambunctious section, though in truth it's just as appropriate for the plains of 1967 (when this movie is set) as those of 1867.

The later sections of the score see McNeely presenting a winning combination of this type of lovely music and more fast-paced action/adventure music (another style which the composer has mastered in various scores over the years) which see some wonderfully detailed orchestrations (another similarity with Broughton - and of course Williams!) putting them head and shoulders above many composers' efforts who are a long way further up the Hollywood food chain.  "Hunting Alligators" is a fine example, contrasted with the gentle, almost folksy bluegrass feel of "The Mysterious Hunter" which follows.  There is some really fine heroic material too, none finer than the majestic "Blood Brothers" and "On the Firing Range".

The score's centrepiece is the seven-minute "Marshall Flies the Skybolt" (with children's choir).  Full of the same sense of magic and childlike wonder as something like James Horner's The Rocketeer, it's truly a gem and worth the price of the CD alone - not that there isn't plenty of other music to make it worthwile!  Indeed, taken together, the last four tracks on the album represent 15 minutes of adventurous, dynamic film music in the grandest tradition of days gone by (even including the briefest of nods to Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo in "The Cave of a Thousand Sleeping Bears" - a score which McNeely famously re-recorded).  This is one of McNeely's most entertaining albums and the saddest thing is that we don't get to hear more of this sort of thing from him.  Some day...


  1. Main Title (3:39)
  2. Blood Brothers (3:11)
  3. Adventure witha Moose (3:46)
  4. Leona the Owl (1:28)
  5. Hunting Alligators (3:38)
  6. The Mysterious Hunter (2:36)
  7. On the Firing Range (4:38)
  8. Bow Hunting (2:04)
  9. Adventure Montage (4:09)
  10. The Bear Lady (1:32)
  11. Marshall Flies the Skybolt (7:28)
  12. Finding the Cave (1:49)
  13. The Cave of a Thousand Sleeping Bears (4:01)
  14. Epilogue (1:00)