|by Natasha Theobald
It's amazing how listening to music from a bygone era can bring some much needed perspective into a world-weary, modern life. Maybe it is the realization that a large number of the people who made the music, even a large number of people who loved it at the time, are gone now. The daily worries and problems they faced have been swept aside by time, and the memories of their lives stretch into some unseeing distance. The message: someday none of this will matter. Some distant day it will all seem very small.
Settling down with the two-disc soundtrack from Raging Bull is the musical equivalent of slipping into a hot bath, sipping a glass of nice, red wine, and letting the day fade away. That's not to say that this is the easy listening on the radio kind of music. It is challenging; it requires the ears to function, not relinquishing itself to notes in the background. But the act of listening is pure pleasure, transformative, a journey to a better state of mind.
Those hoping for Rocky-style pugilistic pomposity will be sorely disappointed. The soundtrack for Raging Bull has a more genteel, more high-culture approach. Within, you will find the talents of vocalists from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra, orchestras led by the likes of Benny Goodman and Harry James, and small surprises like the Robert De Niro speech from the film, That's Entertainment. Liner notes written by director Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, who had a hand in the music, offer some insight into the process of then from the perspective of now, or August 2004, to be more exact. The whole package, and that includes the great shot of a bloodied De Niro in red on the inside back cover, has an air of quality and care, an undertaking of love, and that's before you even get to the music.
Disc one moves from Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo straight into Jersey Bounce, and we're off. Highlights range in style and swing. Two O'Clock Jump from Harry James & His Orchestra is an upbeat tune with a great horn section. Drum Boogie from Gene Krupa & His Orchestra continues the tempo. Harry James is back at track eleven with Flash, a vivid, entrancing, and complex song. Carlo Buti has a voice which floats through the room on Stornelli Fiorentini. Webster Hall from Robbie Robertson has some great piano, and Bob Crosby and the Bobcats thump in with Big Noise from Winnetka. You may wonder if I have just simply listed all of the tracks, but I did leave some out. Truthfully, I could find something nice to say about all of it, so great was my appreciation of the whole.
While any number of versions from world renowned orchestras might have been used, Scorsese preferred the first songs on disc one and disc two as performed by the Orchestra of Bologna Municop Thetra conducted by Arturo Basile for its emotion and immediacy. While it represented some sound issues for Robertson, the choice seems to have been a good one. Disc two, then, begins with a soulful Silvano: Barcarolle. The orchestra appears twice more on the second disc, as well.
Other highlights from disc two vary as starkly as the rest of the collection. Heartaches from Ted Weems & His Orchestra is surprisingly happy-sounding, considering the title, with even a jaunty whistle. The Mills Brothers sing Till Then, a song of pining and hope. Of course, we have Nat King Cole with Mona Lisa, lovelier than I even remembered. Tony Bennett offers an achingly beautiful Blue Velvet, and Frank Sinatra is there with Come Fly With Me. Louis Prima & Keely Smith have it all over David Lee Roth with Just a Gigolo/ I Ain't Got Nobody. Finally, Perry Como does Prisoner of Love with the Andre Kastelanetz Orchestra, all smooth vocal and heartbroken strings.
Thank goodness old soundtracks are finding new life and fresh audiences as newly released CDs. This, as many others, proves there is something to be said for careful attention to detail and the joy in creating the best that can be. Such efforts are truly timeless and without peer.
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originally posted: 09/01/05 12:35:00
last updated: 09/01/05 12:41:56