Created by Belgian cartoonist Morris in 1946, Lucky Luke is a cowboy who shoots faster than his own shadow, rides the smartest horse in the West and fixes problems for all sorts of characters in a version of the American Wild West that has one foot solidly planted in history, and the other in wild fantasy. Part homage and part parody, the adventures of Lucky Luke have delighted kids of all ages for 70 years, in print, TV shows and movies, both animated and live action.
Lucky Luke’s first cinematic animated adventure came with 1971’s “Daisy Town”, followed by 1978’s “La Ballade des Daltons”, both of which are represented in this three disc set. I don’t know how popular Luke’s adventure are in the english speaking countries, but here in French Canada, these two movies are a mainstay of holiday programming, and have been since their release. I can’t imagine the holidays without a chance to revisit these adventures.
Music Box Records has at last released the complete scores to both films, as well as selections from one of the TV series. French jazz pianist and composer Claude Bolling, a veteran of over 100 film scores, provides deliriously fun musical scores that, just like the comic strips, walk the fine line between parody and authenticity. Deeply rooted in Americana, Bolling goes from swinging honky-tonk saloon piano to musical theatre to frantic banjo throw downs to simple country ballads. One of those is the famous theme to “La Ballade des Daltons”, whose lyrics will also serve as a crash course into the world of Lucky Luke and his arch enemies, the Dalton brothers (inspired by real life outlaws who also inspired the Eagles song “Doolin’ Dalton”). Its lackadaisical beat embodies the nonchalance displayed by the hero as he stoically stops robberies, kidnappings and extortion attempts, when he’s not chasing the perpetually newly escaped Daltons.
Bolling hits all the idioms of genre just right, and it’s almost unbelievable that a French composer could write music that is so believable as Americana. That’s not to say that no European influences ever find their way in his music, because they do. But just as Lucky Luke remains oh so European despite his American identity, the music blends influences from both sides of the Atlantic to create an idealized version of the Wild West.
Readers of the cartoons will recall that every adventure ends with Luke riding off into the sunset singing “I’m a Poor Lonesome Cowboy”, and this piece is another highlight of this album, both in its barbershop quartet vocal arrangement, and as the instrumental “Lucky Luke Theme” (it also pops up in various guises throughout all three albums). Recurring character Ran Tan Plan gets a cartoonish theme played on muted brass that’s entirely befitting the stupidest dog in the West, while the titular Daisy Town gets a melody where the French origins of its composer i.e. in plain sight . The recurring villainous Daltons also deservedly get multiple musical pieces.
Bolling also tries his hand at Mariachi music, with tongue firmly in cheek most of the time. “Bandits Mexicains” (Mexican bandits) has an almost funerary feel but “Faux Mariachis” (Fake Mariachis) turns up the parody to 11 in a delicious way. His pieces of Native American music fall a little too much on the stereotype side, but one has to remember the era in which these were written and try to enjoy them for what they are.
The album presentation is fantastic: all three albums gets their own CD, and the included booklet with bilingual notes explains the history of the character, the movies and how Bolling ended up as composer. The sound is pristine and each piece sounds like it was recorded recently. There is no noise at all, in contrast with the beat up copies of the movies I’m used to watching.
This is really a fantastic release for fans of Lucky Luke in general, and these movies specifically. If you’ve never read any of the books or seen any of these movies, the tone of the music might feel strange, but if you’re at all familiar with the world of Lucky Luke, Claude Bolling’s music fits its utopian Wild West perfectly and it will put a smile on your face for sure.
Is this collection worth the purchase? As Lucky Luke himself would laconically say: “Yup.”
The Lucky Luke collection is available to order from the Music Box website.
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage