Ry Cooder

Soundtracks

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Ry Cooder had well established himself as an instrumentalist, songwriter, bandleader, and session musician when he added another title to his résumé in 1980: film composer. Director Walter Hill invited Cooder to compose and perform music for his historical western The Long Riders, and the music was good enough that other filmmakers were soon knocking at Cooder's door. Soundtracks is a box set that collects the original soundtrack albums for seven films scored by Ry Cooder -- The Long Riders; Paris, Texas; Alamo Bay; Crossroads; Blue City; Johnny Handsome, and Trespass. A listen to these seven discs makes it clear Cooder knew what he was doing right off the bat, and much of the best music in this set is contained on the first three discs. The Civil War songs and outlaw ballads that were adapted for The Long Riders are given a treatment that merges past and present with skill and imagination, and the spare, atmospheric guitar work that dominates the Paris, Texas album is beautifully haunting late-night music, while the acoustic vs. electric textures of the Alamo Bay song score make for a superb parallel to the violent culture clashes on screen. It may also be significant that those three albums are also matched with the three best films represented in this set; there's some fine vintage blues workouts on Crossroads, but the album doesn't hold together as well as one might hope (at least Steve Vai's Satan-inspired guitar noodling from the movie doesn't appear here), and Johnny Handsome and Blue City are, like many soundtrack albums, only so interesting divorced from the film's narratives. And while Cooder's interplay with trumpeter Jon Hassell on Trespass finds both musicians stretching their boundaries, not all of the pieces stand on their own, though "King of the Street" is a surprisingly successful hip-hop-influenced track, with Cooder and percussionist Jim Keltner tossing about edgy sounds and rhythms over dialogue samples from the film's stars, Ice-T and Ice Cube. All seven albums are presented here with no bonus tracks or remastering, and each disc is packaged in a replica of the original LP sleeve that often makes the credits hard to read (there are no additional liner notes or booklets, either). In many respects, fans might have been better served with an expanded version of the excellent 1995 collection Music by Ry Cooder, which included some excellent unreleased music (in particular the powerfully swampy score for Southern Comfort), and since Warner Bros. assembled this set, it doesn't include music that appeared on other labels (such as Cooder's music for Geronimo: An American Legend or The End of Violence). Each of these albums is full of Cooder's superb, goose pimple-inducing guitar work and rich musical thinking, but given how impressive his film work has been, Soundtracks is a fine collection but ultimately something of a disappointment.

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