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Red Dead Redemption – “The Shootist” (Bill Elm, Woody Jackson)

June 28, 2010

About a month after its release, Red Dead Redemption (2010) is still one of the top-selling games (and still takes first spot for most frequently-accessed titles on GameFAQs). The soundtrack is spaghetti western, with plenty of guitars and chanting, but it also has a selection of period-style pieces (fiddle, whistling, harmonica, guitar) as well as some decent lyrical pieces (including a rendition of “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” with mostly original lyrics). However, I’m a sucker for allusions to Ennio Morricone, and so “The Shootist” is my pick. The soundtrack was composed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson (and I can’t find any information on either of them).

Red Dead Redemption – “The Shootist” (Bill Elm, Woody Jackson)

“The Shootist” is a good example of a modern take on the spaghetti western, using traditional instruments, but  modern mixing and composition (“El Club de los Cuerpos” is another good example, with a modern drum line, latin trumpets, and distorted whoopings. It’s sort of like an art house spaghetti western. The melody contains elements of the main theme, which is also worth checking out (though a bit repetitive…). There is a wonderful echo on the guitar, taken straight out of Ennio Morricone’s collection. The song also has great wonderful percussion, with a collection of drums, bongoes, wood blocks, castanets, triangle, and cow bells. Exotic instruments such as the bean stick and  Jew’s harp add to the atmosphere. However, the mix of bongoes and guitar feels retro-70s to me (particularly where James Bond is concerned), but it all works together wonderfully. The end of the song includes sound effects from the game as well at the end to help add to the atmosphere and aural narrative.

Some of these instruments seem to carry tropes within the Western genre. For instance, bells recall clocks striking high noon or the appointed hour, and the ticking clock of life. Drums and tambourine can capture the rhythm of horses at a gallop and dangerous men on a mission.

While Red Dead Redemption has a good soundtrack, I don’t feel it as good as Outlaws, which I think has a better variety and a more interesting main theme. Part of this could be taste – Elm and Jackson take a modern approach to the spaghetti western, with melodies, instruments, and color inspired from film, but also with plenty of allusions and touches related to modern urban violence found in Grand Theft Auto, kind of a West Coast vibe. As a result, the soundtrack is uniquely original, but should be suitable for the spaghetti western fan. The soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes. I would recommend previewing other tracks before purchasing if you would like individual tracks over the complete soundtrack (which I think is worth it). There’s a nice review here where he recommends a few other specific tracks.

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