Bruce Langhorne - The Hired Hand OST (Scissor Tail)
Earlier this year, semi-unknown guitarist and composer Bruce Langhorne passed away following years of health struggles. Who was Bruce Langhorne? A folk guitarist first-off but more importantly, the composer and performer who wrote one of the most beautiful, sparse and pastoral soundtracks to ever accompany a motion picture: The Hired Hand.
Langhorne came up in the New York City folk scene, first getting his start with the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. This lead to session work with Odetta, Carolyn Hester and Richard and Mimi Farina, Joan Baez and Richie Havens. He also met Bob Dylan in the early 60’s and was asked to sit in for his single “Mixed Up Confusion.” That turned into his most famous contribution: guitar work for one of Dylan’s landmark LPs: Bringing It All Back Home. His lead can be heard on tracks such as “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “Maggie’s Farm”, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "She Belongs to Me", among others. Most notoriously, his giant tambourine was the inspiration behind Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” While he continued to work with many peers and get plenty of session work, he had yet to cut his own record. That would change in 1969 when Peter Fonda asked him to record the soundtrack to his directorial debut; the hippie-western The Hired Hand.
The film would cast Fonda as world-weary cowboy determined to win his wife back after years away. Fonda was given full artistic control to film the production following the success of Easy Rider and he decided to approach Langhorne to fill in the images with his original score. Langhorne recorded the music live while watching early scenes of the film. He utilized guitar, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer and organ while recording and producing the entire score himself. When the film came out in 1971, it was considered a failure following mixed reviews and an underwhelming box office performance. However, the element everyone made note of was Langhorne’s sublime score.
He approached each moment with a desolate sense of restraint in which barren countrysides and deserted plains are enriched only by the dulcet tones of arpeggiated guitar and dusty banjos. The sunny “Opening” sets forth the score in an optimistic setting as delayed banjo introduces yawning fiddle melodies, languid piano and even some brief percussive moments calling to mind John Fahey’s The Yellow Princess. Darkness sets in on the dreary “Leaving Del Norte” while the Fahey-like, dobro strains of “Three Teeth” leave us with a nice haze of dusted-country ambiance. Langhorne’s aching fiddle graciously floats atop gorgeous guitar with subtle plucks of the banjo on the meditative “Arch Leaves” and the stark yet cosmic outro “Ending” wonderfully utilizes the flute to leave the whole thing wanting in the dying sunset. I simply can’t overstate just how striking and beautiful this music is.
Langhorne would continue to work with Fonda in the 70’s scoring the film Idaho Transfer and Fighting Mad while getting regular work in the film industry for the next decade. Finally in 2004, The Hired Hand was officially released first on CD and then on vinyl in 2012 via Scissor Tail. Following declining health, Scissor Tail put together a tribute double-CD with music dedicated to Langhorne by the likes of Loren Connors, Steve Gunn, Lee Ranaldo, Chris Corsano, Eugene Chadbourne, Tim Rutili and Elliott Sharp with proceeds helping to pay his medical costs after a debilitating stroke in 2015. He passed away in April 2017.
Thankfully, you still have the chance to obtain this stunning piece of work with Scissor Tail finally repressing The Hired Hand. If we were to have a 2nd ESSENTIAL title this week, this would be it. (Dom)
Check out a track here.