AppaloosaJeff Beal’s score for the Ed Harris western Appaloosa opens with a gritty rattle that builds into a boot-stomping mix between epic and oater in a way that leaves little doubt that this composition will be working hard to live up to its cover artwork (featuring Ed Harris staring squint-eyed at his gun with a black-clad, goateed Jeremy Irons in the background). The themes from the opening track (aptly titled “Appaloosa Main Theme”) appear throughout the rest of the album (most obviously in “Hitch Rides”), but only in snippets brief enough to jog the memory without pushing too hard.

Appaloosa marks Ed Harris’s second film behind the camera – he previously directed 2000’s Pollock - and also marks his second collaboration with composer Jeff Beal, who also did the score for Pollock. Looking at Beal’s resume, it seems that the composer is more tuned in to the world of documentary, having scored “The Pixar Story”, “Spirit of the Marathon”, and “James Castle: Portrait of an Artist” along with several small-budget feature-films. Luckily for both Harris and Beal, Harris has seen (or heard) the skill behind Beal’s work and put it to use on his reinvention of the western. And Beal goes at it with both barrels blazing… figuratively speaking.

What Beal does with his score for Appaloosa is provide an appropriately grim and gritty backdrop for a grim and gritty western, featuring a heavy reliance on bass strings and percussion. The chase scenes (the first half of “Bragg Is Captured”) are thrilling, with strings that charge in and fade out almost as if they are fleeing the track, while the quieter tracks (“Cole Ponders”) still manage to throb with passion, leaving a hint of a threat in the air without forcefully pounding the point home. For the most part, the tracks are short (between one  and three minutes) and this does great justice to the style of score work that Beal is working with. Rather than epic tracks that drag on for minutes at a time, Beal gets in and accomplishes what needs to get done.

The final two tracks are not score pieces, but separate songs, one sung by Ed Harris himself and one by singer/songwriter Donald Rubinstein. Both tracks are surprisingly impressive and make for a brilliant closing of the album. Rubinstein sounds a bit like Bob Dylan, while Harris comes across like a deep-voiced Marty Robbins.

Bottom Line – This score hits all the right notes, literally, and gives a brilliantly gritty and grim backdrop for a gritty and grim western. Short tracks drive the album and the final two songs (one sung by director Harris) wrap things up nicely.

Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: Listening to in a remote cabin in the desert
Stay Away if: You like long, sweeping score tracks
If you buy only one track, make it this one: “You’ll Never Leave My Heart” – Ed Harris, not just for the novelty of hearing Harris sing, it’s actually an impressive country tune

To purchase the score for Appaloosa, visit Amazon

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