In an earlier post, examined one musical interpretation of the Jesse James story; the soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and the Melancholy Light in which that film’s story was musically cast.

For those interested in further exploring musical compositions for the Jesse James story, this site would recommend listening to the work composed by Brian Keane for the PBS American Experience documentary Jesse James, which originally aired in 2006. That Jesse James film is part of the larger PBS Wild West series, which will see a new installment on February 11th with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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As an Emmy award-winning composer, Brian Keane has provided the music for numerous television and film productions, including the additional Western-focused The Way West (1995) and Transcontinental Railroad (2003) on PBS.

The PBS Jesse James documentary draws upon a range of historians, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer T.J. Stiles, author of Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War (2002), to provide context for both the documented history and the mythologizing of James. Re-enactments are used to dramatize key moments in the life of Jesse James (played by Mitchell McCann) and it is in the scoring of these dramatizations that Keane’s music, for this writer, is particularly effective. In particular, Galletin Bank captures both the sense of foreboding prior to that December 1869 event in Missouri and the energized flight of Frank and Jesse James afterwards.

The Brian Keane soundtrack for Jesse James can be listened to via this Music Player on his home site. The PBS home site for the film, which includes online video content, can be found via Jesse James@PBS.

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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