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SONIC DEATH MONKEY Soundtrack Reviews - Bubba Ho-Tep & The Company

Sonic Death Monkey is seen every Saturday
by Natasha Theobald

This week, SDM is traveling off the beaten path a bit to bring you a listen to soundtracks with which you might be less familiar. One, for "The Company," is a tasteful collection of music to inspire dance (the kind for which you need special shoes), which boasts a full four versions of "My Funny Valentine." The other, "Bubba Ho-Tep," defies easy categories, as it, blessedly, is a mix of everything possible and a little bit more, music befitting the King. Stick around!

I'll start with "Bubba Ho-Tep," because I might burst, otherwise. My excitement to see this film has grown, after hearing the soundtrack, to near desperation. I have been assured that, in fact, it is coming to a theater near me, but I am growing impatient. I have a friend who believes all art is in a corner, narrowing its way toward the point. If the synopsis and the music are any indication, this film turns that theory on its ear by flinging itself in colorful bursts across the whole canvas. I am here to discuss the music, though, and it stands as an achievement alone.

For those unfamiliar with "Bubba Ho-Tep," wake up! Here is the story as outlined in the soundtrack liner notes. Elvis (Bruce Campbell) switched identities with an Elvis impersonator and didn't get to switch back before Elvis, the original, died. He shares time in a nursing home with Jack (Ossie Davis), who believes he is President John F. Kennedy dyed black. When an ancient Egyptian entity, Bubba Ho-Tep, invades their peaceful community, the two join forces to fight him. One caveat: if you buy the soundtrack before you see the movie, avoid reading the track titles. There are apparent spoilers among them.

In his section of the liner notes, composer Brian Tyler ("Frailty") speaks of the goals director Don Coscarelli ("Phantasm") stated for him in the beginning. The two agreed that the music needed to have a strong emotional element but still leave room for the comedy. Tyler wanted to integrate Elvis' music, while nodding to notes from both horror films past and Ho-Tep's Egypt. Tyler's dedication to the project extended to his playing all of the non-orchestral instrumentals, none of which are synthesized. From what I can hear, the goals have been met triumphantly.

The soundtrack for "Bubba Ho-Tep" extends itself with energy and effervescence in many directions. From loud, dramatic sweeps to near whispers of sound, this music runs the gamut. There is an underlying darkness in parts, as well as a sense of longing. There are rounded rock ditties that are single-worthy and gloriously chaotic mashes of sound befitting battle. The theme, which runs throughout, is quite lovely, in all of its guises, and the voices have a haunted quality which seems adrift in timelessness.

As Elvis would have it, the guitar is center stage a large portion of the time, and the sounds vary from moaning licks to rockabilly, Tex-Mex rock and western to hard hitting pure rock and roll (if there is such a thing), which garners pounding percussion and a breathless speed. In softer moments, the music seems quite soulful, with a spiritual component, a level of knowing beyond truth or fiction. The experience, as a whole, is moving, invigorating, contemplative, and completely satisfying. This music will keep your butt in the seat reading credits, just to hear it all. Not, of course, that you would ever leave before seeing all of the names of those whose hard work you have enjoyed. Right?

The soundtrack for "The Company" is less ground-breaking. As I mentioned, a full third of the disc is dedicated to differing versions of "My Funny Valentine," which is a good song, though four times in forty minutes may be pushing it. There are also cello pieces, an instrumental with an Indian influence, music that sounds a bit space-age, and some jazz, for which I was grateful. This is dinner party music, but there is a nice mix of it to cover the courses.

First to those funny valentines: Included versions vary from Kronos Quartet to a jazzy Chet Baker to a more modern, less encumbered vocal from Elvis Costello. My favorite, though, was a piano and cello version, played by Marvin Laird and Clay Ruede, respectively. This version sets itself apart with a pleasing melancholy, layers of emotion in hints and waves. It is worth finding.

If you are going to include cello pieces, you might as well get Yo-Yo Ma. He plays beautifully on two tracks. The first, Bach's "Menuette," of course, has a very traditional feel, much what one might expect. The second, "Appalachia Waltz," has an interesting flowing quality, which seems to speak of area history and emotion. The harmonies within it are truly breathtaking. Another traditional offering, Saint-Saens "Pas Redoublie" is performed by the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. It is the most obvious dance piece, bringing visions of ballerinas hopping joyfully around in toe-shoes. It is tailor-made for fancy footwork, arranged for dance by Elliot Kaplan.

The most modern sounds include two jazz-inspired pieces from Van Dyke Parks, a track entitled "Ray One from Creative Force" performed by John Zeretzke and M.B. Gordy III, a Julee Cruise song which combines a David Lynch Twin Peaks-type 'bum-bum' with ethereal vocals, and "Rabekin," the best clue about which is that it was published by Gypsy Wind music. It has an Indian sound, created with a banjo-like instrument, perhaps a sitar(?). The second song from Van Dyke Parks is a bonus track. In just over three minutes, it offers the listener everything from an orchestra to jazz horns to Native American-sounding woodwinds to finger cymbals to cartoonish boing sounds to Latin beats. It is an oddly wonderful mishmash.

That's it. Rush to your local retailer, and let me know what you think. Michael plans to be back next week with a fresh edition. Until then....

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originally posted: 01/24/04 16:45:51
last updated: 05/06/05 07:34:53
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