For most of the 20th century, the movie music greats, many of them transplanted Europeans, inevitably drew from the classical canon: Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Maurice Jarre, John Berry, Nino Rota, Jerry Goldsmith, and so on. Some of them, like Aaron Copland, Miklós Rózsa, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovitch, were first and foremost classical composers.
As the cinema approached this century, however, its composers began to diversify greatly, drawing from so many traditions -- jazz, rock, folk, and so on -- that it became very hard to categorize them. Ry Cooder sounds nothing like Danny Elfman or Randy Newman or James Horner or Hans Zimmer or anyone else, for that matter.
Since the 1960s, Cooder has been producing music of an enormously eclectic range, from traditional to modern, on his own and in collaboration with the likes of Captain Beefheart, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Neil Young, David Lindley, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, The Chieftains, and The Doobie Brothers. He is clearly influenced by such deeply American traditions as bluegrass, delta blues, Tex-Mex, Dixieland, and gospel, but he blends them together with other musical strains (including Hawaiian, African, Latin, etc.) to create unique soundtracks.
This collection of Cooder's music presents complete film scores from seven movies that were made in the 1980s and 1990s. They come on seven CDs in thin sleeves, contained in a sturdy case. Three of them ("The Long Riders," "Paris, Texas," and "Crossroads") are fine films in their own right. The others ("Alamo Bay," "Blue City," "Johnny Handsome," and "Trespass") are far less memorable, costing this anthology a star in my rating, but the music is never less than inspired.
The box is rather different from the 1995 release "Music by Ry Cooder," a two-CD sampler from 11 different movies. Both are recommended; your choice, I suppose, depends on how much of a completist you are. But if you're a fan of film music, you need him in your collection. He really is one of the greats.