John Williams

Angela's Ashes [Music From The Motion Picture]

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The phenomenal success of Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir of growing up in Ireland in the '30s, was indicative of a growing enthusiasm in America for all things Irish. McCourt's book was preceded by the hit musicals Riverdance and Lord of the Dance and an explosion of interest in traditional Irish music. In scoring Alan Parker's film adaptation of Angela's Ashes, John Williams could easily have taken advantage of the trend by populating the music with fiddles and uilleann pipes. Certainly, Williams had more reason to do so than James Horner did when he used Celtic music to make his score for Titanic, a movie with no major Irish characters, the best-selling instrumental soundtrack of all time. But Williams made the surprising decision to eschew any semblance of Irish influence, perhaps reasoning that the Irish fascination with American culture was every bit as prevalent during McCourt's boyhood as was the American fascination with Irish culture in the late '90s. Consequently, the only vocal tracks on the soundtrack album are not Irish folk songs but American pop tunes ("The Dipsy Doodle" and "Pennies From Heaven"). Williams' score is a rich and sonorous piano and string composition that lends a sense of scope and sweep to a film that is otherwise drab and constricted, lacking the charm of McCourt's prose. In fact, the soundtrack contains the two best parts of the movie: the score and narrator Andrew Bennett's readings from the book. That Angela's Ashes earned Williams his 38th Oscar nomination is hardly noteworthy, since he is so venerated by the Academy that they would undoubtedly have nominated him for playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on a touchtone phone. But this time the recognition was deserved. Angela's Ashes ranks among the best work from this universally acknowledged dean of film composition. ~ Evan Cater, Rovi