The Hell or High Water soundtrack (on Milan Records) is every bit as good as the film; it’s an integral part of the whole film’s achievement. The David Mackenzie-directed film, starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, features a score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, plus songs by such powerful artists as Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt and Chris Stapleton.
It’s been 45 years since Jeff Bridges starred in The Last Picture Show. That film captured in many remarkable ways a moment in Texas time, a slice of the ever-shifting cultural experience in the Lone Star. In The Last Picture Show, Bridges played Duane, a high school senior who, along with his best friend, Sonny (played by Timothy Bottoms), were living out their evaporating youth and innocence in a dying West Texas town. Now, in Hell or High Water, Bridges plays Marcus, a divorced dad who, along with his ex-con brother Toby (played by Chris Pine), resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s farm. It’s an arresting tale of generational poverty (and the inevitable resulting predatory lenders) where the only hope left seems to be the rigged system of casino economics.
They might have been filmed on the same soil, but Last Picture Show (set in 1966) and Hell or High Water (set in 2016) couldn’t grow in more opposite directions; one—a fluid coming of age, the other—a completely arrested adolescence.
The songs featured throughout Hell or High Water capture the thirsty, determined atmosphere perfectly, all while highlighting the complicated and often contradictory values being played out on the screen. As for the Cave/Ellis underscore, it is epic and expansive without being grandiose. It hits that usually elusive sweet spot, where the score achieves scale and emotion without feeling noticeably manipulative or overwhelming. The film’s sincerity, both geographically and existentially, echoes out through every note of the aural landscape on this soundtrack of lonesome, bluesy, yearning, ornery outlaw songs.
01) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Comancheria”
02) Townes Van Zandt: “Dollar Bill Blues”
03) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Mama’s Room”
04) Ray Wylie Hubbard: “Dust of the Chase”
05) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Texas Midlands”
06) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Robbery”
07) Waylon Jennings: “You Ask Me To”
08) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Mountain Lion Mean”
09) Colter Wall: “Sleeping on the Backtop”
10) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “From My Cold Dead Hands”
11) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Lord of the Plains”
12) Scott H. Biram: “Blood, Sweat and Murder”
13) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Casino”
14) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis: “Comancheria II”
15) Chris Stapleton: “Outlaw State of Mind”
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