The best comparison I can think of for Hart’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is to the works of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. For the past decade or so, ever since they together scored John Hillcoat’s unflinching Aussie-western The Proposition, these two names have largely molded what I have come to think of as the sound of the modern western. Their The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford continued and even bettered this sound, producing one of the best and most underrated scores of 2007 in the process, and I would even argue that The Road sustained this tradition, as did Lawless after that. Daniel Hart’s score, as ponderous and grassroots as the film it accompanies, exists somewhere in the realm of this modern, western sound that Cave and Ellis have established. Comparisons, however, are never entirely fair. Not for a second should it be questioned that what Hart has accomplished here is an ode to this film, rather than to the works of these two composers.
As befitting the story’s Texas setting and the sense of pastoral simplicity that the characters are imbued with, Hart’s score is folksy and organic, with an unmistakable heart that beats for the duo and yearns for their reuniting. "Atbs Theme" introduces the kind of instrumentation you’ll hear throughout the score. Shimmery strings, plucking guitar, and mournful solo violin combine to form a unique piece consisting of vague, drifting chord progressions. It’s earthy and beautiful in a simple, unconventional way. "Ruth and Sylvie", one of the highlights of the score, is similarly textural. With the inspired addition of knee slapping and hand clapping to produce the cue’s rhythm, "Ruth and Sylvie" is undeniably heartfelt yet continues to maintain an ever so slight mournful tinge. "Bob Escapes" reprises this material with slightly less concrete direction.
Another highlight track and a representation of what may be the score’s most accessible theme is "Fixer Upper". A bit more traditionally folksy than some of the other material on the album, it’s a twangy, warmly optimistic piece that also incorporates the rhythmic knee slapping and hand clapping of "Ruth and Sylvie", which from here on becomes a staple part of the score’s fabric. One of the more atmospheric tracks, "Ruth Tries to Write", is chillingly beautiful with delicate, trembling strings conveying a palpable sense of angst, amplified by the later addition of a ponderous horn that often appears in the score’s weightier moments (as in "Freddy’s Dead/Sylvie’s Born"). Also angst-ridden is the track "Sweet Talk", the underlying rhythm of which seems to suggest time inescapably ticking away. The anxious "Skerritt Reads the Letter", and the beautifully nostalgic "Do You Remember That Day" employ higher, hoarser strings to great effect while "The Last Shootout" employs outlandish percussion to make it the score’s most challenging, hostile piece. Closing off Hart’s original score material is "Inside the Farmhouse", an entirely string-based track that suggests a bittersweet end.
The album also includes eight non-score tracks, mostly residing under the distinction of "melancholic folk/country". Actor Keith Carradine provides the vocals for "The Light" and Curtis Heath of The Theater Fire crops up a few times as well (on banjo, singing vocals, or in conjunction with John Graney). Greg Schroeder and Bosque Brown’s Mara Lee Miller collaborate on the folk-lament "Here We Are" while Annell Brodeur offers the back-and-forth "He Never Told Me" and Andrew Tinker the soulful "Ain’t Long Enough". Closing the album is Aaron Kyle’s moody "Siren Call".
Daniel Hart’s brilliant, inventive little score is perfectly in tune with the pulse of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Its earthy and folksy textures transport listeners to dusky, Texan vistas while its mournful melodies voice a tale of simple lives woefully undone and yearning for righting. Hart’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is an impressive and largely unique early work that shouldn’t be passed by.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Atbs Theme", "Ruth and Sylvie", "Fixer Upper", "Do You Remember That Day" (but I also recommend listening to the relatively short length of Hart's original material all the way through)
Label: Lakeshore Records
Availability: 19 track edition