The Hired Hand

Bruce Langhorne

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The Hired Hand Review

by Richie Unterberger

Although he's most well-known as a session guitarist for numerous noteworthy folk-rockers and singer/songwriters in the '60s (particularly Bob Dylan), Bruce Langhorne got a chance to do a solo album of sorts when he was asked to score Peter Fonda's Western movie The Hired Hand in 1970. The movie didn't do well, and no soundtrack was released at the time, but it finally made it onto CD about 35 years later. By that time, the original soundtrack tape masters had been lost, and the music had to be reconstructed from the film's original sound stripe. While that means this disc isn't quite of state-of-the-art fidelity, fortunately it does sound alright, and the less-than-100%-pristine condition shouldn't stop you from investigating it if you think you'd be interested. More importantly, it's a worthy, entirely instrumental film score that both avoids Western clich├ęs and achieves a sad, dignified, haunting ambience of its own. If bluegrass is the high and lonesome sound of the rural U.S., this might be said to be the low and lonesome sound, evoking vast empty, sparely vegetated spaces with tunes that are slow and deliberate, but not lethargic. It also approximates, as the best Western soundtracks should, music that seems as though it could have actually been played in the 19th century, and not just a melodramatic 20th century bastardization of it. The combinations of instruments Langhorne employs are relentlessly unusual -- including upright piano, soprano recorder, harmonica, Farfisa organ, dulcimer, and fiddle -- yet never in a way that draws attention to itself. It is on the short side -- the pieces last just 24 minutes -- but there aren't any wasted moments in the landscape it evokes, with a flavor so richly archaic it's hard to imagine that any movie dialogue would have been necessary to complement it.

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