At the heart of the gritty soundscape of "The Missouri Breaks," and the
occasional explosion of grassroots pickin' and a-grinnin', is a well-crafted
score... That is, when it is an actual score. "The Missouri Breaks" is a
remarkable change from the average Williams soundtrack, but the release of
this soundtrack on compact disc is primarily of interest for the ease in
which one can skip the horrific tracks and get to the strong material quickly.
There are some expectedly 1970s Williamsesque moments: A recurring love theme
awash with '70s schmaltz, the obligatory melodic nod to Aaron Copland, creepy
legato melody lines representing danger. Various themes and textures demonstrate
what Williams did before ("The Reivers," "The Cowboys," even "Earthquake")
as well as what came after ("The River," "Rosewood," even "Presumed Innocent").
The music comes from bluegrass territory. Perhaps because I was raised around
this style (I grew up around countless styles of music -- as good an excuse
as any to like so many of them!), I have a certain admiration for Williams'
effort. He captured the approach to perfection. When I first heard the LP
some years ago, I did not know he was this prolific. This is a fine example
of his diversity.
And here is where the trouble starts. Williams' adds inharmonious, sometimes
truly atonal, writing to the variance of his score... He knows excellent
atonal music ("Images" comes to mind), but with "The Missouri Breaks" it
is derivative and shallow, sounding like his ensemble desperately needs an
oil checkup and a new muffler. The dissonance contrasts nicely with the lush
melodies, the folksy tunes, and the atonal rubbish, but the combination of
the four has the potential to spawn a few headaches.
The disc is typically well produced by Ryko, although Jeff Bond's notes are
abnormally choppy. Harmonica player Tommy Morgan performs (uncredited) on
the film and album tracks. The original mixing (which helped garner the LP
repeated praises on The Absolute Sound's Best Sounding Records lists) remains,
remastered beautifully. In addition to being the first CD release of the
original soundtrack album, it adds the film versions of the main title, the
train robbery, and the love theme -- more roughly performed, but in some
ways more interesting than their re-recorded counterparts.
It is a solid recording as a whole, but if more traditional music is your
interest then you might do well to stick with Ryko's other current release,
David Mansfield's "Heaven's Gate."