November 1999 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Bruce BROUGHTON The Lighter Side  INTRADA

The Lighter Side, vol. 1 CD 4001 [ 45:36]

Sounds Exciting, vol. 2 CD 4002 [ 50:03]

Musical Drama, vol. 3 CD 4003 [72:42]

Double Feature, vol. 4 CD 4004/5 [ 98:31]

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These four albums (five, if one considers that Double Feature is a 2-CD set) survey some of the scores by Bruce Broughton, a composer of recent vintage, who often comes across as one of the most eclectic and inventive purveyors of film music of his generation.

For those who may not be too familiar with him, Broughton, born in 1945, began in television in the 1980s (he notably won an Emmy for his music for Dallas, in 1983), before moving to feature films where he particularly distinguished himself with such scores as Young Sherlock Holmes, Silverado, Harry and The Hendersons, and more recently Lost In Space.

Unlike many other relative newcomers to the field of film music, Broughton knows the values of a good melody, and his scores frequently display florid examples of a style that is at once evocative of the screen action and catchy when removed from it. Don't expect the standard contingent of synthesized sounds that meander helplessly (and one would say, hopelessly) in search of a hook so prevalent in most of today's efforts; instead, Broughton serves up solidly crafted tunes that are pleasantly listeneable, and make his scores usually much sought after by connoisseurs.

The four volumes released by Intrada provide a compelling overview of his career up till now. Generally speaking, this is a very interesting series which includes themes from the major films with which the composer has been associated, many others that are available for the first time, and some unexpected discoveries

Be aware, however, that on close examination some flaws are readily apparent that could have been dealt with and corrected in order to maximize the impact and importance of these releases. For instance, one could quibble with the thematic concept which, while somewhat loose, denies a greater sense of continuity throughout the various volumes, and sometimes within a single volume: the apparently random compilation of selections from films as diverse in format and importance as Silverado, So I Married An Axe Murderer, Narrow Margin and Night Ride Home somewhat diminishes the effectiveness of a CD like Double Feature, and leaves one wondering what prompted producers Broughton and Douglass Fake to assemble these the way they have. The arbitrary subtitles given each CD don't help much either, as one is bound to remark that they seem to ill-suit the selections under their generic umbrella. Equally baffling in some CDs is the abundance of some tracks from a single film at the expense of a better balance: for instance, Sounds Exciting features five selections out of 13 from Narrow Margin, a score that probably didn't deserve so much coverage, when a greater diversity might have served the bill just as well.

Much more satisfying, in that respect, is Musical Drama which is split into two distinct sections, Drama and Adventure and Fantasy, both of which consist of themes that belong in these respective categories. But why, when you have a two-CD set like Double Feature, not fill it a bit more to accommodate the longer playing time? As it is, the first CD in that set clocks in at 62:45, but the second only contains 11 tracks with a total playing time of 35:46. Would have it meant a great deal more to add a couple of selections and make this second CD a little bit more rewarding?

As its title indicates it, the first CD, The Lighter Side, deals more specifically with the comedies for which Broughton has written some of his most engaging scores – Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1 track), House Arrest (2 tracks), Krippendorf's Tribe (2 tracks), Big Shots (1 track), Baby's Day Out (1 track), and So I Married An Axe Murderer (1 track). However, the big surprise here, at least to these ears, are the five selections from the Tiny Toon Adventures: taken singly or collectively, they would make Carl Stalling (or even Raymond Scott) proud. More than any others, these reveal Broughton's versatility and innate sense of fun, and probably stand out as the highlights in the entire collection.

Under the umbrella subhead Sounds Exciting, the second CD regroups selections from a wide range of films, including five from Narrow Margin, two from The Presidio, and one each from Glory And Honor, Shadow Conspiracy, Silverado, Young Sherlock Holmes (a score that should have called for a greater amount of excerpts), Tombstone, and the television action drama, J*A*G*. Of those, surprisingly perhaps, "Train Fight" and "Choppers and Rails," both from Narrow Margin, come off best and most suggestive of the kind of action cues Broughton can create. But "Trek On The Ice," from Glory And Honor, sounds like a throwaway in the context rather than an inspired choice.

As mentioned above, Musical Drama is divided into two distinct categories, Drama, with eight selections, and Adventure And Fantasy, with 12. Of the two, the latter is much more inviting, with varied choices from Harry And The Hendersons, Lost In Space, Young Sherlock Holmes (all with one track), A Simple Wish (three tracks), Kippendorf's Tribe, The Monster Squad and Glory And Honor (each with two tracks), making the best impression. Drama, on the other hand, while attractive in its own way, presents so-so selections from films like The Presidio, Night Ride Home, One Tough Cop, Infinity, and Big Shots, whose overall impact seems a little bit more limited.

The 2-CD Double Feature draws from essentially the same films, with Rescuers Down Under, Last Rites, Homeward Bound, Jacknife, Betsy's Wedding, For Love Of Money, True Women, Miracle On 34th Street, and O Pioneers! among the films represented here with tracks not found in the other three CDs. But again, while one can only welcome the abundance of selections assembled here, the nagging thought is that these were put together in a random manner that paid little attention to program continuity.

Taken together, however, they show Broughton's richness of invention and natural proclivity, and ultimately prove musically engaging and enjoyable.

Another criticism: in view of the pain and obvious effort that went into putting these four CDs together, it seems regrettable that Intrada didn't see fit to provide appropriate booklets, with some text to illustrate the work done by Broughton, some biographical data, and, why not?, a plug for the label's own full recordings of Broughton scores: all that's available is a single tray card, the obverse of which contains only a blurb that means strictly nothing for the connoisseur, and even less for the occasional buyer possibly intrigued by some of the selections included therein. This casual oversight demeans what would have been otherwise an absolute delight!


Didier C. Deutsch


Didier C. Deutsch

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