Noteworthy CD releases

Reviews of five soundtrack collections, from the stellar 'WALL-E' to the haunting score of the legendary 'Gloomy Sunday.'

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

WALL-E: Thomas Newman (Walt Disney Records/Pixar)

With its subtle and appropriate tributes to "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" marbled throughout, Pixar's best film to date displays the talents of eight-time Oscar bridesmaid Thomas Newman at their best. Two story-essential Michael Crawford tracks from "Hello, Dolly!" are included, as is Louis Armstrong's memorable "La Vie en Rose." The obligatory cut from the big music star (Peter Gabriel), "Down To Earth," is warm and calming, but would be disposable if it were not so critical to the end-credits afterstory. The 100 percent recycled brown-bag packaging makes for a release as nearly perfect as the film. Grade: A

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL: John Williams (Concord Records)

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Baton-wielding hero to the "Star Wars" generation, John Williams again manages to mimic a wide range of styles while somehow making every piece his own in his 24th collaboration with director Steven Spielberg. In this third "Raiders" sequel, Williams naturally borrows a fair amount of his own classical thunder, but the familiarity is part of the appeal of this alternately serious and playful mini-résumé of sorts. And no matter how many times we hear the energetic refrain of his immortal "Raiders March," it is still not enough (even if four Indiana Jones movies are). Grade: B+

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN: Harry Gregson-Williams (Walt Disney Records)

John Williams will retire someday, and when he does, the skilled cadre of composers including Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, and others featured in our roundup will compete for his de facto status as the modern film composer. Harry Gregson-Williams may not be in that core, but surely will be next time around. His score to the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" chapter brims with the kind of orchestral grandeur that sounds neither forced nor contrived, capturing so well the decidedly downbeat timbre of the fantasy epic. Forgive Disney's end-loading of four treacly tunes and give this powerful suite a chance. Grade: B

WANTED: Danny Elfman (Lakeshore Records)

The top-loading of the rockin' track "The Little Things" (with composer Danny Elfman on vocals) might prompt buyers to think they got the (nonexistent) song collection by mistake. But have no fear, this is the unmistakably stylish former Oingo Boingo frontman near his best. Elfman, who is pulling double duty this summer with Guillermo del Toro's upcoming "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," has a full complement of strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion at his command, and command them he does. His angst-fueled orchestrations help propel Timur Bekmambetov's hyperkinetic action flick to heights it would not have reached alone. Grade: B+

GLOOMY SUNDAY: Various Artists (WEA Records)

While this string-heavy score by the Budapest Concert Orchestra and splendid song track to the legendary long-legged 1999 art-house hit is nowhere near new, the fact that so many film fans learn the many joys in its sorrow every year makes it evergreen. Using the haunting and famous "Hungarian suicide hymn" by Rezsó Seress and László Jávor as a somber seed, artists as diverse as Marianne Faithfull, Heather Nova and Elvis Costello add their brands to the unforgettable ode to loss and desperation. Every bit the timeless "experience" album as Pink Floyd's classic "Dark Side of the Moon." Grade: A

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