When ABC announced Nashville was in production, I was interested to see how they would portray Music City USA. After all, I am familiar with the town. It’s where I started my music career on a more professional level. I was glad they chose to shoot on location rather than on a soundstage in Hollywood or Canada where they would have been forced to recreate the city’s scenary. I’m actually into the show. I’m fully aware its drama laced characters are not properly representing country music, but I’m okay with it because I know the show is fake… at least the characters and (some) situations; not the music.
Since I’m reviewing only the music and not the actual show itself, I’ll spare storyline details and let you catch up on that on your own time, but I will introduce the characters briefly so you can get an idea of the music they perform. Connie Britton plays Rayna James, a fading country legend having trouble competing in today’s newer, younger, hipper, pop-esque country market. Hayden Panettiere plays opposite of Britton as Juliette Barnes who is the biggest thing in country music these days. Both characters see each other as rivals. These characters are rumored to be based off of real life country superstars Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift (neither McEntire nor Swift has a known rivalry against each other).
Rounding out the musical cast is Charles Esten as Deacon Claybourne, an accomplished guitarist/singer/songwriter who performs in James’ and Barnes’ bands throughout the series, Jonathan Jackson as Avery Barkley, a self-absorbed frontman who dumps his band to go solo (been there, done that), and Clare Bowen as Scarlett O’Conner and Sam Palladio as Gunner Scott, who were struggling songwriters that are starting to find success writing and performing together.
Despite the make believe characters and situations the music is legit. In fact, all of the songs are written by top Nashville songwriters and all of the actors are singing their own parts. With the exception of series stars Panettiere and Britton, I’m wondering if producers didn’t just cast a bunch of unknown singers and taught them to act because they can all really sing. I’m surprised at the vocal abilities of Panettiere and Britton as I had no idea either could sing. It’s definitely a stretch for Jonathan Jackson from his General Hospital days, but the guy has some talent. They all do! AutoTuned or not, this album is a hit as it’s the only soundtrack I’ve seen in a long time (if not the only one) that features the actual cast singing all original material, and all songs featured on a show/movie.
Produced by legendary producer T. Bone Burnett, this album chronicles 11 songs from the first half of season one. There are four additional songs featured on a deluxe Target edition. I listened to the album on Rhapsody and got much more than that including alternate takes, live tracks and additional studio tracks to bring the album’s complete total to 26 tracks. Perhaps, some of the bonus tracks will be featured on volume two that will probably coincide with the conclusion of the first season in May.
The album is full of eclectic country and roots music ranging from traditional country to gospel to today’s pop-centric sound. Even Jonathan Jackson’s rock tunes are classified as more alt country than rock.
The music on this album represents a full range of dynamics from acoustic to loud. As a drummer, I hate hearing the drums buried in the mix, but they really compliment the music more than anything on this album. Brushes, intertwined with steel guitar, fiddles, acoustic guitar and keyboards, are used throughout to relay the somber feel of many of the tracks.
Britton’s tracks are more intimate with raw and grit. The music is more of an accompaniment to her strong vocal performance than the 80s and 90s country I grew up on. It’s more traditional sounding like in the style of George Strait and Alan Jackson, but modern sounding.
Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes is the latest trend in country music. She has the first single off the soundtrack, “Telescope.” Its pop-laden sound is enriched with loops and handclaps, like most of her uptempo tracks featured on the disc. Fans of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are sure to adore Panettiere’s tracks even though the single hasn’t done as well as their music. She also has the only gospel song on the record, “For Your Glory” backed by a church choir.
Esten, Bowen and Scott are very much traditionalists. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings are very much alive in each of these cast member’s tracks. These tracks feature outstanding vocals with music accompaniment like Britton. These represent the singer/songwriter genre exceptionally well.
Jackson is the sole rocker of the cast (at least up to this point). His sound is raw and gritty, like Nirvana, but with less (sometimes no) guitar distortion. I wouldn’t even classify his sound as rock, but more alt country or rockabilly. The drums have a natural sound while the guitars have a cleaner, less distorted sound like BR549. His vocals are appealing even though they are overpowering at times.
Most of the tracks are made up of cast collaborations. Nine of the 26 tracks are duets with various cast members. The standout duet, which would make a better single than “Telescope,” is between Britton and Panettiere called “Wrong Song.” Even though Britton sounds like she’s forcing herself to sing with Panettiere (she is in the show), it’s among the better up tempo songs on the album. The opening guitar riff is reminscent of Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” before the full band and vocals enter. It reflects more of the stadium anthems Garth Brooks is known for in the 90s than the pop-centric country of today.
Since I reviewed the album on Rhapsody, I don’t have a physical copy of the artwork to sift through (I prefer to still buy physical copies). The artwork is very simple. It features one of the show’s posters with Panettiere leaning on a guitar while Britton sits distraughtly on a crown chair with guitar necks protruding from it. The background is black with a shades fo gray throughout. The artists are lit front and center with Nashville written at the top of the backdrop and album’s subtitle at the bottom.
I think the album is a good representation of how country music has evolved over the last few decades. It features traditional country, modern country, rockabilly and new country all in one collection. I’m also pretty impressed with the vocal abilities of each of the singing cast members (not all characters on the show sing). Other than the occassional award show, country music hasn’t been represented much in primetime television on the top three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC). ABC has found a hit with Nashville that is sure to draw in new fans of the series. The soundtrack made its debut at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 charts in its first week of release in December 2012. I say bring on more Nashville music!