This review is written in memory of Maestro Michael Kamen (1945-18 November 2003). Open Range was the last score that he completed before his sudden passing, and I am deeply grateful that he was able to give us this final work. Michael has never been the type to write very off-the-wall scores of the kind you might hear in a movie like The Matrix (that is, except for that unbelievably chilling noise he coaxed out of the string section in "Spooks on the Hill"; how I wish I knew how he did it!)...rather, his talent was in adding special, subtle touches to a more usual sort of orchestral music. In particular, he excelled in the blending of genres into a successful whole. What Hans Zimmer has done for classical and world music, Michael Kamen has done with classical and the more distinctly American-originated musical forms.
It is fitting that Michael seems to have been heavily inspired by Aaron Copland, who is perhaps my favorite classical composer ever. Copland excelled in the incorporation of Americana into his work, and seemed to revere the West. What Michael did that distinguished his work from Copland's, to my ear, was the wonderful incorporation of the acoustic guitar--it neither overwhelms the orchestra, nor is it drowned out by it. Nor is there ever the sense that it has merely been superimposed upon the orchestra--rather, it functions as a *part* of it. I should also give credit to whoever played the guitar; he creates a wonderful sound with it. I also hear, in "Wagon Wheel", a folkish tune that sounds almost Irish. We often forget, I think, the role immigrants played in the American West, so I find this inclusion quite appropriate.
Even in its dramatic sections, Michael's score never becomes overblown. Perhaps because other parts of his score are so understated (think of the haunting, minimalist piano meanderings at the beginning of "Card Game", or the ever so slight whispers of percussion from "Ride to Town"), it does not require some discordant, crashing thing to draw the ear's attention where "action music" is required. This is one of the subtleties at which Michael always accelled--the control of the orchestra's dynamics. This is what keeps the excellent "Gunfight" track from coming off schmaltzy, as it possibly could have in other hands.
Perhaps the one thing that I could have done without on this CD, despite what other reviewers have said, was "Holding All My Love For You". It's a nice song, don't get me wrong...but it kind of feels out of step with the rest of the score. I admit I may also be a tad biased against it because it brings back memories of some of the rather unconvincing acting in the movie (maybe the voice reminds me of that character Charley was in love with?). For me this song seems like the "obligatory single" that someone probably told Michael he had to do. He did it well enough, but the real masterwork is the rest of the score. What Michael did with every other track, in my opinion, evokes what was best about Open Range--and that was the cinematography, the gorgeous landscape, the burningly beautiful colors. What Open Range lacked in plot, it made up through a wonderful combination of music and image that still made the experience worthwhile. In a way, I actually credit Michael for being an instrumental part of overcoming the movie's deficiencies. It takes a very impressive score to do that.
And an impressive man to write that score.
It's a blessing indeed that Michael Kamen had his years with us, and was able to create this, and his many other works.