Album review

Various :
Once Upon A Time In Mexico

Columbia / WEA International

Various : Once Upon A Time In MexicoRobert Rodriguez has been rather busy of late. If you watch the opening credits of his latest film, Once Upon A Time In Mexico you'll see the phrase 'Shot, chopped and scored by Robert Rodriguez'. That's a lot of work for one guy, and judging by the epic scope of his latest flamboyant gun-slinging film, it's a wonder that he had time to pen most of the music as well.
    Perhaps it's just the Mexican way - you want a job doing, you do it yourself. As Johnny Depp's character asks his villainous counterpart, "Are you a Mexi-can, or a Mexi-can't?" Clearly Rodriguez is a 'Mexi-can' (despite actually being Texan . . . it's close enough).

Rodriguez says that often the score (which he wrote alongside the script) drove the momentum of the film. And listening to the first frantic bars of the intro with its heavy Latin American guitar lead and strong flamenco pace you get a very good sense of just where this film is going. Comparable to the energetic and unmistakable opening bars of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, this first track acts as a kind of musical trailer for the album, and with its mixture of tempo and style it introduces many of the themes which reoccur throughout the album.
    Often a repeating motif or melody representing a key character, with the music mirroring the unfolding story of its onscreen counterparts. What qualifies this album as an effective soundtrack is the fact that the music paints the scene every bit as well as the grand, sweeping panoramic views of the scorched Mexican desert does in the film. Rodriguez manages to create the same absorbing atmosphere, and places the listener firmly into the rustic, spaghetti western setting, without restricting the overall creativity and variation of the music.

As a whole the soundtrack is evocative, involving, rich in personality and ably translates the pulsating rhythm and zest of the film to the listener. You definitely sense that this soundtrack was not just a 'studio afterthought' but rather an organic and integral part of the development of the film itself.
    And part of this is probably due to the intimate involvement of not just the director, but also many of the lead cast, including Ruben Blades, Antonio Banderas and (is there no limit to his talent?) Johnny Depp, who all contributed to the composition of their characters' musical themes. And despite a relatively minor role in the film, Salma Hayek gives an excellent performance, showing off her fittingly seductive voice on Siente Mi Amor.
    In addition to these surprisingly good contributions Rodriguez calls up the big guns of established artists such as Tito Larriva, Manu Chao and Brian Setzer to add their own brand of catchy creativity to the mix, with Del Castillo giving a truly mind boggling virtuoso solo on Dias De Los Angeles.

From grandiose orchestral themes to delicate finger-picking licks, the result is not just an excellent soundtrack, but a credible album in its own right. Often reminiscent of Buena Vista Social Club, there is an irrepressible Latin American spirit running from start to finish which makes it a truly compelling listening.
    Overall, an entirely worthy soundtrack, well in keeping with the 'El Mariachi' cocktail of guitars and guns, and a tribute to the multiple talents of Robert Rodgriguez.

:: Tom West

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