Film Music Review
The Sammy awards









20 Tracks (Playing Time = 60:29)

CD produced by James Newton Howard and Jim Weidman. Mixed by Shawn Murphy. Supervising Music Editor: Jim Weidman. Music Editor: David Olson. Score Production by Stuart Michael Thomas. Technical Score Adviser: Scen Falconer. . Orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Conrad Pope, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull. Circus/Jazz Arrangements: Dan Higgins. Orchestra conducted by Pete Anthony. Acoustic Guitar/ Dulcimer/ Cuatro: George Doering. Music Scored at: Sony Pictures Studios, Streisand Scoring Stage. Score mixed at: James Newton Howard Studios.

Sony Classical 88697872662

Rating: ***1/2

James Newton Howard can usually be expected to provide an effective film score for any project he is involved with and this one is no exception. He has received eight Oscar nominations, four Grammy nominations and a win for tHE DARK KNIGHT (with Hans Zimmer), four Golden Globe nominations and honored with the prestigious ASCAP Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement. These recognitions are certinaly justified considering his stellar film scores over the years and several of them have been chosen for Sammy Awards.

While I wouldn't say WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is one of his best, this is still a very appealing score full of warmth and sensitivity. Since the story takes place in the 1930s, there are five old songs from that era included:

"Button Up Your Overcoat" (excerpt) -- sung by Ruth Etting
"I'm Confessin'(That I Love You) -- performed by the Jazz Band
"Don't Tell Them What Happened To Me" (instrumental)
"I Need A Little Sugar in My Bowl" -- sung by Bessie Smith
"Stomp Time Blues" (instrumental) --Jasper Taylor and his State Street Boys, featuring Johnny Dodds

Of these, the suggestive song sung by the great blues singer, Bessie Smith (track 15), is the best of the bunch. It's full of her trademark gutsy singing. The "Stomp Time Blues" (track 16) is also a highlight, full of sassy swingin' by a jazz band.

There is also a 16 member "Circus/Jazz Band" featured on the CD but it is difficult to know which tracks they perform on. For example, they presumably are performing on "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" and "Barbara's Tent" (tracks 9 and 10). It would have helpful to identify on which tracks these musicians are actually playing on.

Now to the JN Howard score. It opens with a simple subdued track titled, "Did I Miss It?" (1:49). The next track features a much snappier folklike cue, "The Circus Sets Up" (2:32), which might remind some of Thomas Newman's style of film composing -- rhytmnic but never overwhelming.

Overall, this score is lighter and more sparsely orchestrated which is in keeping with the romantic story of the film. Among the tracks I found most appealing were: "Rosie" (track 7, 3:25), a lovely quiet cue that evokes a delicate feeling of affection. A more forceful cue is "Jacob Returns" (track 11, 5:31) which grows in intensity from an opening repeated passage that becomes an intense rhythmic force, with a fine solo by George Doering playing the Cuatro (I believe) and accompanied by strings and percussion.
This is a very hypnotic cue.

The final track, "The Stampede/ I'm Coming Home" (8:21) is the longest one and begins very softly, then grows louder and more prominent as it moves along, echoing the story's climactic point. It is a very effective finale.

The CD has all the musicians listed (bravo for that!) and the usual film stills. Un fortunately, there is nothing from the composer or the director about their collaboration.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is another fine James Newton Howard score and should bring much listening pleasure to anyone who enjoy a more tender type of music rather than than the noisy blockbuster type of score that is so common these days.

This score is well worth repeated listening. Recommended.

-- Roger Hall, 27 April 2011





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