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Songs from the Silver Screen by Sarah Vista


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Sarah Vista: Songs from the Silver Screen (Gallow Romantic Records SV006) reviewed by Lee Broughton.

Long-term readers may recall me enthusing about outlaw songstress Sarah Vista’s debut album Killing Fever last year (see my review of the album here). With the global pandemic preventing live shows and work on her second album proper, Vista embarked upon an interim “lockdown” project entitled Songs from the Silver Screen, which has just been released on Gallow Romantic Records. 

As the album’s title implies, this is an album of cover versions of songs from films – but not just any old films. In keeping with the Western vibe that informs her music and her image, Vista has selected a mix of songs from classical American Westerns and revisionist Spaghetti Westerns and put her own Vista’ly spin on them. 

The album opens with a new interpretation of the traditional murder ballad, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. The track’s pleasing mix of country-folk style acoustic guitars and harmonica, topped off with Vista’s distinctive “country music” voice, sets the template for much of what follows. Next up is Wandrin’ Star: we’re all familiar with Lee Marvin’s gravelly voiced take on the song but Vista’s sweetly sung and comparatively jaunty and up-beat version really stands out here. As does her version of Johnny Guitar, which is also slightly up-tempo when compared to Peggy Lee’s version. It may be slightly more up-tempo but Vista’s version also amps up the fatalistic angst of Lee’s reading to really good effect too and some well-placed electric guitar licks add to the drama of the piece.

Marty Robbins’ version of The Streets of Laredo is a personal favourite of mine and his iconic reading of the song still stands tall sixty years on. Perhaps sensing that a slightly different approach would be needed in light of the popularity of Robbins’ take, Vista gives her version a kind of Cajun-folk country vibe that works a treat. Next is a stripped down version of River of No Return that just features a gently strummed acoustic guitar, which allows Vista’s fine voice to be showcased. Her voice suitably projects the intense sense of longing that the song’s lyrics demand. A bit like Marty Robbins’ association with The Streets of Laredo, Tex Ritter and Frankie Laine are both closely associated with definitive versions of High Noon AKA Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’. As with The Streets of Laredo, Vista sidesteps these earlier versions and offers a neat new interpretation that features atmospheric bells and deft harmonica and electric guitar work.

The album then presents a run of songs from Spaghetti Westerns, which kicks off in grand and dramatic style with an impassioned and suitably boisterous version of Django. This track features some good rock ‘n’ roll-style electric guitar work. Vista’s version of A Gringo Like Me doesn’t stray very far from Pete Tevis’ original version, which means that some powerful staccato drum work is necessarily brought into play. However, Vista makes this version her own by swapping the gender of the song’s protagonist and presenting it as A Woman Like Me. Much as with A Woman Like Me, Vista’s take on Pete Tevis’ Per Un Pugno Di Dollari stays fairly faithful to the original. However, Ennio Morricone’s dramatic and emotive trumpet score is replaced by an equally dramatic and emotive electric guitar lick. Just like the original, this is a very short song that quickly reaches a magnificent crescendo before suddenly leaving you hanging and wanting more of Morricone’s amazing melodies. The album ends on a quieter note with a return to the world of the classical American Western and a contemplative reading of Saddle the Wind.

This album would have been a winner based on the song selection alone. Most Western fans will be familiar with the majority of the tracks presented here and they will undoubtedly count more than a few of them as personal favourites. But the album’s success is secured and consolidated by the pleasing performances that Sarah Vista and her supporting musicians offer and the distinctive nature of the novel arrangements that they employ to give a new lease of life to many of these old standards. All told, it’s a perfect little album that will satisfy Vista’s fans until her hotly anticipated second album proper arrives next year. Find out more about Songs from the Silver Screen and its availability here.

Lee Broughton is the author of The Euro-Western: Reframing Gender, Race and the ‘Other’ in Film (2016) and the editor of Critical Perspectives on the Western: From A Fistful of Dollars to Django Unchained (2016) and Reframing Cult Westerns: From The Magnificent Seven to The Hateful Eight (2020).

© Copyright 2020 Lee Broughton.