Album review: Good for Nothing soundtrack

By William Dart

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Over the years, thanks to the local movie industry, you might have enjoyed some great New Zealand music without realising it.

Two instances that come to mind are John Charles' mesh of Baroque Adagio and Maori chant for Geoff Murphy's Utu (1984) and Jenny McLeod's ecstatic pile-up of marimbas, choir and the Wellington Regional Orchestra in Yvonne Mackay's The Silent One (1985).

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hamish McKeich, tops the bill on the soundtrack to Mike Wallis' Good for Nothing, with the movie finally getting a local release 15 months after its premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Touted as the world's first pavlova western, the movie has composer John Psathas writing tasty music in territory well staked out by the likes of Elmer Bernstein to Ennio Morricone.

The CD sets off rather shakily by misquoting American critic and big-time Psathas fan Jim Svejda on its cover, making it sound as if this is the work of an experienced film composer writing his first score.

For a first-timer, Psathas slickly navigates around the templates of the genre, even if the opening track could have been allowed a decent ride on the range rather than pulling up just short of a minute.

The inevitable fragmentation with 32 tracks might frustrate those with the stamina to press on past the two or three-minute mark; the delicate yet intense string and harp writing that introduces the heroine begs for a fuller workout.

Psathas enjoys having the country's best big band on call. The NZSO strings deliver shivery tremolo with the best of them and, for those who thrill to stirring full-on climaxes, The Man Returns packs its brassy punch in just 28 seconds.

An even shorter track is simply a shimmering, edge-of-the-seat crescendo.

Longer tracks do suffer from the lack of accompanying images, a problem with almost any soundtrack. Nevertheless, some sly, Theodorakis-like dances that slip into Chinese Camp and a spookily atmospheric interlude in The Indian Medicine Man provide some compensation.

Verdict: The music for the world's first pavlova western dishes out some savoury delights

- NZ Herald

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