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CD Reviews: The Dish, Songcatcher, Love and Treason

The Dish ** 1/2


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 226 2

28 tracks - 55:22

The Dish is a whimsical Australian comedy about the effect of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing on a tiny town in Australia, which found itself burdened with the responsibility of using its huge radio telescope to beam the footage of the moon landing around the world. The soundtrack of the film is skillfully arranged to showcase both the '60s-era songs it uses for cultural milieu, and also the strains of Edmund Choi's orchestral score (25:27 worth). The songs themselves are entertaining, with some Australian favorites (particularly Russell Morris' "The Real Thing" and "The Wings of an Eagle") mixing smoothly with Stateside standards (like The Youngbloods' "Get Together" and Mason Williams' "Classical Gas"). The first half of the album passes quickly enough, not overplaying its welcome while setting up the time period with admirable efficiency.

But the resemblance to the musical approach to Apollo 13 -- period songs mixed with a tinkling musical score -- becomes so obvious as the album plays out that by the time Choi's score rolls around, you're primed for Horner. Choi's self-consciously inspirational score occupies the second half of the album, and sure enough, it starts out with a distinctively Horner-esque main theme ("Main Title -- The Dish"), complete with a low-end string melody and an ethereal chorus. Much of the remainder of the score portion of the album plays out in brief bits, many of them not even a minute in length, which makes it difficult for the material to breathe. But, to Choi's credit, he keeps things simple and straightforward, and some moments sparkle: the majestic strains of "Our Vital Contribution," the escalating string and percussion rhythms of "The World Waits," and the darker, urgent "Blackout."

Unfortunately, the score's musical points become repetitive, and the music becomes more and more obvious in its emotional approach. The quasi-comic "A Brief Listen" breaks up the monotony, but it too is derivative of a Broughton-esque comedic style. Horner derivations take over almost entirely in "Moving the Dish," complete with the woodblock effects and the sharper tutti hits characteristic of Horner's action material. The climactic "The Day the World Stood Still" apes Horner's finale for Apollo 13 so blatantly -- even down to the solo vocal, here contributed by Tina Arena -- that it would probably be all- too-easy to confuse the two. Choi was no doubt fighting a temp track (unless you buy into the gushing liner notes by the film's producer, Jane Kennedy) so give him credit for at least attempting to spin Horner's music in a new direction. But after a certain point, the familiarity of the approach becomes a little too much to take.  -- Jason Comerford

Songcatcher ****


Vanguard 79586-2

16 tracks - 55:10

Janet McTeer stars in this small indie movie about a music teacher in the early-1900s who travels to the mountains of Appalachia to record local folk songs. Pearl Harbor, this is not -- although there is a scene with a destructive fire. First seen at Sundance in 2000 where it won the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Ensemble Performance, this is a very quiet movie which gives ample space for the folk songs. This is why it's not surprising that the album is filled with these songs, re-interpreted by folk and country singers like Emmylou Harris, Maria McKee, Roseanne Cash and Dolly Parton. Composer David Mansfield specializes in these intimate American tales (Tumbleweeds, The Apostle) and is well represented by two score suites.

Mansfield's suites last roughly10 minutes, and are especially pleasant when incorporating the folk music rhythms to his music. But as in the movie, it's the folk songs, especially the original ones from the movie by actresses Emmy Rossum, Iris Dement and Pat Carroll, that stand out. Rare is a soundtrack that is recommended because of the songs, but this CD is so chock full of great folk songs that it would be a shame to miss out, even if you haven't seen the film. Similar in feel to the popular song soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?, these songs are achingly beautiful and simple, rarely incorporating anything more than a fiddle and a guitar.   -- Cary Wong

Love and Treason ** 1/2


Intrada MAF 7092

18 tracks - 34:19

The producer of The Hunt for Red October approached Basil Poledouris to score his latest TV movie for a fraction (4.5% to be exact) of October's cost -- but naturally retaining that score's scope and grandeur. Poledouris took on the challenge and came up with a mostly electronic score for this made-for-TV thriller about naval officer (Kim Delaney) caught up in an espionage plot involving her husband. Intrada (which recently released the score to Switchback, another minor but larger-scale Poledouris score) likely faced little costs to put this one out. Poledouris shared synthesizer duties with only one other person: Todd Haberman.

Poledouris, with his "glass-is-half-full" philosophy, produced a serviceable score that resembles John Carpenter and Maurice Jarre (during his electronic period). Though never devoid of melody, this score needs more variation (which synthesizers can only go so far in providing). The electronic percussion cues are highlights, sounding a lot like Blue Man Group. The piano solos, as in "Kate Follows Rondell," are also effective. But no matter how you slice it, this CD will probably fade in your memory faster than would the telefilm itself. For Poledouris completists only.  -- CW

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