Mourning after – The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Tommy Lee Jones has been quick to concede that his feature-film directorial debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, is not loaded with action. So, more than most films, it relies on music not just to underline a given mood but to build and sustain narrative momentum.
That task fell on Marco Beltrami, a veteran composer best known for his work on horror movies. Beltrami combines classic Western themes with subtle border shading, creating a series of understated, melancholy instrumentals that echo the lead character’s brutal rite of passage. Most of these pieces are evocative but not particularly compelling when separated from the film. With the accordion-driven “Gift Horse” and the nearly identical “House Building,” however, Beltrami creates beautifully melodic fragments that end all too quickly. His final track on the album, “Goodbye,” might be his most haunting, a spare guitar piece that feels like a forgotten norteño classic.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Beltrami’s tracks are spiked with vintage country weepers from the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams Jr., and Bobby Flores. Yoakam’s “Fair To Midland” is a clever ode to a distant West Texas love that would seem even more clever if its title were properly spelled “Fare To Midland.” Flores’ “I Wonder Who’ll Turn Out the Lights (In Your World Tonight)” (recorded in San Antonio at B.G.M. Studio) cuts deeper. It’s an elegiac waltz that effectively exploits the potential double meaning of its title.
In this low-key company, Lila Downs’ “¿Dónde Estás Papa?” initially feels slightly overwrought, but it brings the curtain down with a no-apologies dose of catharsis, the wildly emotional rush of tears that follows a solemn sense of duty. •