Before Carter Burwell set to work on the score for the post-World War II western
“The Hi-Lo Country,” he did his homework listening to old western soundtracks for films
such as “Red River.”
But what the composer of scores for such major films as “Fargo,” “Miller’s Crossing” and
“Velvet Goldmine” said he found after listening to many classic western scores is that he
wanted to avoid copying them.
“I took certain aspects of [them], some of the drums and brass that they would use, but I
updated [this score] by adding unusual time signatures. … The cattle drive is written in
7/8 time, which is a little bit off-kilter and unpredictable,” Burwell said. “I used
acoustic guitar on the score, which is not an unusual choice, but I processed it
electronically, so it makes for a little bit different sound.”
Set for release Tuesday (Jan. 19), “The Hi-Lo Country” soundtrack features Burwell’s
score and a duet from country legend Willie Nelson and hip-hop folkie Beck on “Drivin’ Nails In My
Coffin” (RealAudio excerpt). It also includes a Hank Williams original, and Leon
Rausch — former singer for vintage western swing band Bob Wills and the Texas
Playboys — crooning over a pair of his old band’s tracks.
Ranging from the pedal-steel guitar and twang of Williams’ country classic “Why Don’t
You Love Me” to fully orchestrated instrumental pieces such as “To Kill A Man,”
“The Hi-Lo Country” soundtrack fuses elements of traditional country sound with
Burwell’s updated compositions.
The film stars Woody Harrelson and Patricia Arquette, and it features Nelson in the role
of a wolf bounty hunter.
“I hunt wolves for bounties in New Mexico. It was a lot of fun: I got to horse around on a
four-wheel all over a New Mexico ranch,” Nelson, 65, said. “I got to sling my buddies
around. I had Woody Harrelson there and riding with me, hanging on for dear life.”
Rausch, who makes a cameo appearance in the film, said recording the Bob Wills
chestnuts “San Antonio Rose” (RealAudio
excerpt) and “A Maiden’s Prayer” presented no difficulty at all.
“We did the tunes we’ve done every night for 40 years. It wasn’t any stretch for me to
record them,” said Rausch, 71, who still plays upward of 60 shows a year.
“Those songs, of course, have always been favorites of mine even though we do them
every night. ’San Antonio Rose’ has been included in several different movie projects,
but I don’t think ’A Maiden’s Prayer’ has ever been used in a movie before.”