Soundtracks that feature country music and old-time-sounding pop songs seem to be selling well in the United States these days. Even for political conservatives who may be turned off by a movie about gay cowboys, it may be hard to deny a collection that includes Willie Nelson’s version of “He Was a Friend of Mine”; Emmylou Harris’s “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” which will likely be heard at a million weddings; a cracking version of “King of the Road” by Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainright that’s almost as good as Roger Miller’s original; and Mary McBride’s “No One’s Gonna Love You Like Me” is Patsy Cline-by-numbers, swaying heartbroken to the jukebox in a half-empty bar.
The new country tracks and the old standbys are great representatives of that genre (and it’s nice to have a new track by Harris, in this time of country-star revivals by the likes of Loretta Lynn), but it is the instrumental incidentals by Gustavo Santaoalla (producer of the Café Tacuba sessions) that are most gripping here.
Santaoalla’s sparse arrangements evoke the cold starkness of the Wyoming mountains and plains, as well as the aching the characters in the film Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist constantly suffer. These instrumental segues fit nicely with the quieter end of the post-rock spectrum, and his devastating chord changes make the incidental music stand out, underpinning the gravity of the situations perfectly.
Great soundtrack music underscores the emotions and circumstances of the scenes and themes without creating too much pathos or sentimentality, and Santaolalla captures these essences with flair. “The Wings,” the haunting instrumental that brings the film to a close cut a deep impression on me, playing over and over again in my head. To find out later that Santaolalla composed it specifically for the film was a revelation.