Before Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves reinvigorated the Western for a whole new generation the late 1980s had their own crack at what was considered to be a dead genre with the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove. Based on the book of the same name by Larry McMurtry and starring Robert Duvall (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) and Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, Volcano) the series ended up being a critical hit. Now, on the series’ 30th anniversary, Varese Sarabande have brought out a new release of this formerly out of print soundtrack.
Scoring duties fell to Basil Poledouris, who also brought us the iconic scores to Robocop, Starship Troopers and Conan the Barbarian. This was his first ever western score and he has given us something that would not sound at all out of place playing over any other Western movie. This new release of the soundtrack includes all the original 14 tracks from previous releases as well as a new composition from Poledouris’ daughter Zoe and her husband Angel Roché.
Opening with ‘Theme from Lonesome Dove’, this swelling, grandiose piece transports the listener to the wide open plains of the west, carried along by the swelling, swaying strings section. It is unfortunate though, that one of the refrains here sounds very similar to that of another, less serious film. To anyone who has ever seen The Muppet Christmas Carol it may be difficult to avoid humming ‘Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas’. Sorry, Basil.
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Moving on, ‘Jake’s Fate’ opens with rolling drums and high, tremulous strings suggesting that whatever his fate is, it is perhaps not a good one (mild spoilers – yeah, it really isn’t the best of ends).
‘Night Mares’ is classic Poledouris, thumping drums and horns, a more martial number which still manages to hold that Western tone, morphing into something triumphant and uplifting before ending on a softer note. A successful journey completed, our heroes find themselves in the safety of home, perhaps.
‘Cowboys Down the Street’ starts with the off-tune piano that can be heard in almost every saloon in every two horse town in every Western before kicking off into a proper yeehaw hoedown beat that could get almost anyone’s foot tapping, before we slew into solemn mood with ‘Statue/Deets Dies’ which is an altogether slower and more sombre affair than we’ve had so far.
From there we move to ‘Arkansas Pilgrim (Clara,July, Lorena)’, another classic Western-style number with the piano joined by fiddle and banjo this time. Good travelling music for pilgrims on the move together.
Track seven and the halfway point of the soundtrack, ‘Sunny Slopes of Yesterday’ is another more thoughtful number, dominated by plucked strings and the wind section, a thoughtful track musing on what has gone on before, perhaps pining for those ‘better days’ that always seem to be behind us.
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‘The Leaving’ continues this more thoughtful and melancholy mood, another string and wind-heavy piece that ends with a flourish of brass and drums reminiscent of a marching band.
‘On the Trail’ and we’re thinking about Christmas again (sorry again, Basil) as the main theme makes a return in this, the second longest piece of the soundtrack. This piece blends a number of moods, shifting from the familiar main theme to another slower, banjo-heavy piece before a Spanish-flavoured guitar takes over and the track slowly wends down to a close.
‘Murdering Horse Thieves’ is another guitar-driven, flamenco-esque track that perhaps isn’t as frantic or as strident as you might expect with a track title like that! Less a frantic gallop in pursuit of thieves, more a leisurely canter.
Winding the soundtrack down now, track 11 is ‘Gus And Pea Eye / The Search’, a track that morphs into something far more oppressive, strings now in a minor key, the drums and piano rolling in another classic Poledouris refrain that could have come straight from the Robocop soundtrack.
Track 12, ‘Gus Dies’ is pretty much what you might expect of a track with that title. Far from merry or jovial it is a slow, thoughtful piece that remains on the right side of schmaltzy, never becoming too overbearing, never trying to tug at the listener’s heartstrings and demanding that THEY MUST BE SAD NOW (looking at you, Black Panther soundtrack).
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‘Captain Call’s Journey’ is the penultimate track from the original releases, and is the longest single piece on the album, revisiting many of the themes that have been touched on before; this could almost be considered the ‘Lonesome Dove Suite’.
Track 14, ‘Farewell Ladies/Finale’ is a slower, almost waltz-like version of the main theme which again morphs into that triumphant, upbeat refrain previously heard in track three, ‘Night Mares’, ending the original soundtrack with a flourish of horns.
Track 15 is the new addition for this 30th anniversary release, ‘Let’s Remember’, and is a more traditionally country-orientated piece. While being very different from the rest of the soundtrack the chorus re-uses the main theme refrain that consistently reminds us of Christmas.
All in all this is another solid entry into the Poledouris catalogue and a great re-release of a hard to find soundtrack from Varese Sarabande. Fans of Basil Poledouris’ work should consider picking this one up.