Composed and Conducted by Alex North

Alex North had a deep affinity for the music of the American South, and following his landmark 1951 score for A Streetcar Named Desire he’d been given frequent opportunities to harness this love.  One such opportunity came in the form of 1972’s Sounder, based on the beloved young adult novel by William H. Armstrong.  It takes its name from a hunting dog belonging to an impoverished family of Southern black sharecroppers, telling the story of young David Lee Morgan and his quest to find the chain gang where his father is serving hard labor after stealing food. North’s empathy for the careworn Morgan family is apparent from the score’s opening bars. The main title begins with a haunting, gospel-tinged melody for flute and strings, backed by a soft guitar line. This is followed by a cheerful passage highlighting harmonica, before the piece concludes with an impassioned viola solo— a microcosm of the film’s hardships, joys and sorrows, all masterfully distilled into ninety seconds.  Early in the production, producer Robert Radnitz had hired the prominent blues musician Taj Mahal to portray a minor character and perform on screen. Radnitz ultimately became so enamored of Mahal that he insisted the bluesman be commissioned to provide all-new background music, tossing North’s score into obscurity.  Until now.

The 1953 corporate short film Decision for Chemistry runs a little under an hour in length and was produced by Monsanto Chemical for screenings at schools and other assemblies across America. Its stated purpose was to intrigue boys and young men with exciting scenes from the world of cutting-edge chemical engineering, in the hope that they would choose chemistry as a career track (or at least gain a greater appreciation for the work of Monsanto). North’s score is robustly American through and through. In its grandest and most inspirational moments, it swells with broad, sweeping melodies that conjure the vast and limitless potential of the spirit of enterprise. This is counterbalanced by more intimate passages that sketch, with bucolic whimsy, the life of typical small-town lads. It is the lengthy industrial montages, however, where North is really able to cut loose, deploying kinetic jazz rhythms and lots of busy overlapping lines.  Appropriately, North uses modernist touches for the more scienceoriented scenes.  It all adds up to an energetic portrait of an artist in full command of his creative powers.

Both scores, taken from mono sources, premiere here and capture a slice of quintessential Americana.

Two previously unreleased gems, one, in fact, never-before-heard! First on CD is rare early documentary soundtrack forDecision For Chemistry, scored by North in 1953. Industrial film from Monsanto Chemical Company was designed to illustrate wonders of chemistry and science to college-age youth contemplating career paths. North gets incredible opportunity to write full symphonic score, rich with animated ideas, colorful nuances, complex material underscoring numerous chemical discoveries. Moments of brisk activity meld with reflective music, then segue into excitement. Terrific film score! Second work on CD is never-used score for critically acclaimed 1972 drama Sounder, helmed by Martin Ritt, starring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, Kevin Hooks. Score was ultimately dropped in favor of authentic blues-style music from Taj Mahal. North anchors his work with specific colors representing weary life of sharecropping family and “Sounder” the dog. Harmonica over strings, lazy trumpet, rich harmonies from brass, jazzy solos of all manner, heartfelt orchestral passages… and always that Southern flavor North excelled at in music for numerous films with similar locales: A Streetcar Named DesireSound And The FuryLong Hot Summer, many others. Striking idea worthy of mention: though much of score plays to burdens of family in tale, including incarceration of father, North often uses major keys, not minor, to underscore drama! Combination of mournful ideas underscoring impoverished family set against optimistic educational aspirations of young David Lee make for emotional listening indeed! Both scores presented in excellent mono sound from composer’s personal master tapes, courtesy the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the North Music Group. Two decidedly different voices from one magnificent composer! Alex North conducts.

Decision for Chemistry
01. Main Title/A Boy’s Choice/Places to See/Back in the Twenties (4:01)
02. Odd Jobs/Frontier Science/Chemists of the Future 2:20)
03. Zero Minus Thirty/Stirring With Life/Industrial Skyline/Research (3:33)
04. Phosphorus Plant/Scientific Supermarket (3:35)
05. Wood Pulp Mill/Vanillin (1:29)
06. Dirty Clothes (3:36)
07. The Silkworm/Spin Dope/Synthetic Fibers (5:36)
08. The Soil Demonstration/Decision for Chemistry (6:10)
Total Time: 30:34
09. Main Title (1:33)
10. Father and Son (3:40)
11. Rebecca/David to School (1:46)
12. To the Ball Game (0:49)
13. Sounder/Goodbye, Mama (3:40)
14. Work in the Cane Field/Family Work (2:49)
15. Sounder Returns/Act Like One (2:42)
16. Thanks/Disclosure (2:12)
17. Dream (1:01)
18. Odyssey, Version A (3:27)
19. Odyssey, Version B (3:40)
20. Dejected (1:19)
21. Where’s Daddy (2:46)
22. Work (1:08)
23. Nathan Returns, Version A (1:42)
24. Nathan Returns, Version B (1:46)
25. Home (1:25)
26. Search for David (2:06)
27. Departure (2:36)
28. Source Music (2:24)
Total Time: 45:15