Open Range was one of the last films scored by Michael Kamen before he died at the tragically young age of 55 last November. It is certainly the last to result in a soundtrack album so far. (Kamen later scored Against the Ropes, Back to Gaya and First Daughter (all 2004))
The film is Kevin (Silverado (1985), Dances With Wolves (1990), Wyatt Earp (1994), The Postman (1997)) Costner's latest Western, and a fine piece of traditional film making. The actor/director and composer only worked together once before, on the massively successful Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), for which Kamen penned a strong score and a rock ballad – 'Everything I do, I do it for you' - as hugely inappropriate as it was commercially lucrative. Perhaps bearing this in mind, the album for Open Range begins with a new song, even though 'Holding all my love for you' plays over the end titles of the film. The song, a Country ballad is performed by, and has lyrics by singer/songwriter Julianna Raye, a cousin of the composer. The song had an understated fragile quality which grows in appeal with repeated plays and is not so far removed from Emmylou Harris territory. It does though feel a little light compared to the mood of both film and score.
The score itself begins with the second track, the titular 'Open Range', presenting a main theme based on the same melody as the song though now dressed in full traditional nostalgic Americana clothing. Let me say right away that romantic Americana Western scores are among my favourite forms of film music and that with Open Range Kamen has crafted a work of emotive, tender and melancholy beauty to stand with the best. Most pleasing of all, Open Range is filled with melody; a real rarity in modern film scoring. From various orchestral settings of the reflective, touching main theme to the refined moodiness of a cue such as 'Decade' this is a score which is both eloquent and tuneful.
Elsewhere Kamen offers tense atmospherics, such as in 'Spooks on the Hill', or classic Western suspense – 'Face Off' – or simply a deeply impassioned, guitar-spiced 'Gun Fight'. Whatever the action, Kamen remains within the classic Western tradition, presenting the finest, most lyrical and emotive score in the genre since Bruce Broughton's Tombstone (1993). It is a superb companion to James Newton Howard's Hidalgo, also reviewed this month on Film Music on the Web, and given the almost inevitable valedictory fatalism of the finale to any modern entry in the genre, a fitting farewell to one of recent cinemas' finest talents.