There are film directors -- Woody Allen comes to mind -- who score their movies simply by rooting around in their record collections for some of their favorite tunes. It's what one might suspect of director Tim Hamilton upon listening to the soundtrack album for his movie Mama's Boy. The tracks here tend to either actually be British punk rock and new wave tracks of the late '70s and early '80s or songs in the same styles. The Jam get three selections to add to familiar tracks by Generation X and the English Beat, while Scanners' 2006 copyright "Low Life" has a distinct Cure/Waterboys feel. Billy Bragg's two songs sound exactly like Billy Bragg songs of the '80s, as he sings savagely critical politically charged lyrics in his cockney accent over his furiously strummed electric guitar accompaniment, but it turns out both are new songs written by Mark Mothersbaugh and the screenwriter, Hank Nelken. Mothersbaugh, the former Devo leader, is the actual film composer here, the album ending with nine minutes' worth of his eclectic, understated background music. That's one more tie to the sound that dominates the album.
This is one of Mother Gong's strongest and most representative efforts, albeit a little late in the group's classic period. The lineup includes Robert Calvert (saxes), Conrad Henderson (bass), and Robert George (drums and percussion), in addition to the nucleus of Gilli Smyth and Harry Williamson. Recorded in part during Mother Gong's 1991 tour of America and in part in an Australian studio, Tree in Fish offers a good balance of space poetry and groovy instrumentals. Smyth's effect-drenched voice takes center stage, but the musicians are left ample room to breathe. "Wilful Housewife" and "The House Is Not the Same" (the latter with brilliant lyrics by Henry Normal) remain among her best performances from that era. This album's strength resides in its free-flowing, spontaneous-sounding track list hiding carefully scored tunes. Tracks like "She Smiled" and "Cafe Reflections" keep things ethereal and improvised, framing more precise songs into a single album context -- a feature that is lacking on the group's other records.
As a composer, arranger, and performer, Robert Burger has worked with a variety of musicians, including Bill Frisell, Marianne Faithfull, Rufus Wainwright, and Laurie Anderson. This release of selections from his music for film includes tracks from the soundtracks to the films Diminished Capacity (2008, directed by Terry Kinney), and Timescapes: A Portrait of New York (2005, directed by Jake Barton and James Sanders), and a track to accompany Ladislaw Starewicz's The Cameraman's Revenge (1912).
The tracks are brief and aphoristic, most lasting only a minute or two, and they make their statement effectively and bow out before they've worn out their welcome. Burger's music is gently melodic, often rhythmically punchy, comfortable, and familiar sounding, with various folk traditions, jazz and light rock influences filtered through a freely classical sensibility.
He uses mostly a broad assortment of acoustic instruments (including piano, accordion, marimba, vibraphone, assorted percussion, violin, viola, ukulele, and harmonica), but some tracks include electric guitar and keyboards.
The music is notable for its variety and for its delicate, inventive orchestrations. Many tracks have a folk-like sound, but the variety of instruments he uses allows for richer and more varied textures than many conventional, small folk ensembles. Even though the tracks are widely diverse in tone, style, and instrumentation, certain themes return on various tracks, and the album is fully successful as an integrated listening experience. The sound is clean and resonant.