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The Newton Boys

Fri., March 20, 1998

Music From the Motion Picture (Epic/Sony)

A few years ago, Warner Bros. released a 2-CD collection of Ry Cooder's work. Only instead of it being comprised of material from the famed guitarist's solo albums, critically lauded efforts from the Seventies such as Into the Purple Valley, Paradise and Lunch, or Bop Til You Drop, it was a greatest hits-type collection chosen from the small multitude of soundtracks Cooder has worked on since the early Eighties. Highlighted by music done for some of Walter Hill's best and most gritty films, The Border, Crossroads, Southern Comfort, and The Long Riders, this amazingly cohesive compilation, Music by Ry Cooder, is a five-star confirmation that Cooder found his niche in film scores. One spin of the soundtrack to Richard Linklater's The Newton Boys, the local filmmaker's Young Guns version of The Long Riders, and it's not hard imagining a similar collection rounded up from future soundtrack work by Austin's Bad Livers. Expertly matching the longtime local band's old-timey banjo stomp to a period-piece set in the Twenties and Thirties, The Newton Boys doesn't feel so much like a soundtrack as it does a Bad Livers jublilee. Whether the trio is backing Abra Moore on the wonderfully Betty Boop "Millenberg Joys," Patty Griffin on the playfully ragtime "Copenhagen," or Guy Forsyth on the Keystone roguish "Right or Wrong," the Bad Livers make the period come alive like a Coney Island nickelodeon. Erik Hokkanen's "Lulu Lou" is especially hammy, but a highlight nonetheless, and more to the point, the instrumentals the band rips through on their own, "That's a Plenty," "Riverboat Shuffle," and "Alabama Jubilee," are everything the Squirrel Nut Zippers are not - authentic and a gas. As are the opening and closing slices of Crescent City clarinet music from the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Even the film score pieces, "True Blue" and "The Great Train Robbery" - composed by lead Liver Danny Barnes - add a bit of atmosphere to the barroom hutzpah of the entire affair. In fact, as co-producer of The Newton Boys soundtrack along with David McNair, big, bad Liver Mark Rubin steps out somewhat from his prodigious musical partner's shadow - not that they weren't a team all along, one of 'em scoring the film, and the other producing a soundtrack of mostly Austin music. Given the right breaks - like this one - Music by the Bad Livers might one day be just as essential as Music by Ry Cooder.
3.5 stars - Raoul Hernandez

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