With last week’s whiskey-soaked finale of Nashville bringing the debut season to a close, we can all finally take a breath to process the blaze of sequins, seduction, and side eyes that we’ve been hypnotized by. The show has panned out to simultaneously be nothing and everything like the real Nashville, at least if you close one eye and remember that ABC is pandering to the demographic of Grey’s Anatomy-loving, corn-fed Americans who take bus tours of country star’s homes and flock to CMT fest every summer. And that’s fine, because the show hits some high notes in between the paternity tests and murders, mainly whenever they focus on the music.
The finished product of the show’s soundtrack is about as glossy and autotuned as most of what’s on the radio these days, but if the Nashville record labels aren’t above it, you can’t really expect ABC to be either. What is more pertinent is that the show is introducing the masses to the real noisemakers of Nashville. Each alcohol anthem that Rayna mom rocks, cheating ballad that Juliette is pitchy in, or banjo croon that Scarlett is being a caricature for, has a group of true to life Nashville songwriters, players and producers behind it. ABC is also putting these fine folks on display, dedicating the Music Lounge portion of their website to featuring various interviews and performances of the songs before T Bone Burnett got in there and Hollywood-ed them all to hell.
It seems that despite all the shiny facades, everyone involved in the show has a profound respect for what they are representing, and has made smart decisions because of it. One of those choices was making Buddy Miller co-producer of original music, which led to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys producing an unreleased Lucinda Williams song, “Bitter Memory,” for Connie Britton’s character. That attention to authenticity is what allows real Nashville to shine through all of the glitter.
Other fantastic choices have been Tyler James (Escondido) and Kate York’s song, “I Will Fall,” Ashley Monroe (The Pistol Annies) and Brendan Benson’s (The Raconteurs) “Consider Me,” Jim Lauderdale and Odie Blackmon’s, “Tough All Over,” and Angela Lauer and Natalie Hemby’s “Looking For A Place To Shine.” You’ll also notice that the songwriter’s versions have a lot more natural resonance than the show versions, but unlike how it’s portrayed on TV, that’s the kind of music you would actually hear if you went to the Bluebird (that’s a different rant, for a different day).
Two of the show’s starlets have taken a personal interest in the off camera country music industry. Clare Bowen, who plays Scarlett, has been performing all over Nashville, and Hayden Panettiere, who plays Juliette, has a single on the charts (even though it’s pretty obvious in this video, and this video, that neither of them are quite ready to take the training wheels off). That bleeding over is working the other way too. Nashville songs have been background tracks for sighs and eye rolls all season. Local heavy hitters like Caitlin Rose, The Cadillac Black and Escondido (all of which you should check out and listen to often) all deserved to be louder over the action, but at least they’re in there, representing life without pounds of digital editing. It’s subtleties like these that are the real musical high notes of the season. It’s a portrait of Kitty Wells on Scarlett’s wall. It’s Jim Lauderdale being backstage at the Opry. That’s the backbone of Nashville that’s created such an excellent background for the show.
In other news, Nashville will be returning to ABC for a second season, and with a running start, it’ll be very interesting to see how they continue to explore the music of the show. Hopefully it will have a whole lot more of Lennon and Maisy, who play Daphne and Maddie, doing things like this. Maybe this round they can do a little less Lumineers and a little more Johnny Cash (which you can see here). Also, I think I speak for all of us when I say, please stop Photoshopping all of your promo photos. It's weird and gross, do a real photo shoot like a real television show. Here’s hoping.