Gangs of New York

Original Soundtrack

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Gangs of New York Review

by James Christopher Monger

Like T-Bone Burnett, Robbie Robertson is a lover and collector of music old and new. While Burnett's work on the hugely successful O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack shoveled in award after award, Robertson's equally impressive musical supervision for Martin Scorsese's 19th century epic Gangs of New York went largely unnoticed, despite the inclusion of U2's Oscar-nominated "Hands That Built America." This is a shame, as the 18 tracks compiled by Scorsese and Robertson -- chosen from a cache of hundreds -- are a smorgasbord of British folk, Civil War, and turn-of-the-century standards that act as a map for each of the film's bloodstained "points." Modern pieces such as the Afro-Celt Sound System's tribal pipe dirge "Dark Moon, High Tide" and Peter Gabriel's "Signal to Noise" fit seamlessly with folkier contributions from legends Linda Thompson and Finbar Furey. Composer Howard Shore -- already deep within "Middle Earth" -- captures the menace and cold beauty of pre-New York City with the same devastating impact that won him an Academy Award for his work on The Lord of the Rings, providing a brief respite from the machine gun staccato of Chinese-opera and fife-and-drum tunes. The song choices mirror the city's burgeoning multicultural explosion at its inception, offering careful listeners access to the "real underground," and letting them decide who's really in charge. Gangs of New York is a fascinating, informative piece of audio magic.

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