Album Review: “The Music of Nashville: Season 1, Volume 1 (2012)”

I have Netflix to thank for getting me into Nashville.  Initially, I didn’t really think it’d be my kind of show.  I’m not a huge fan of country music in general, though I’m tolerant of a few songs and artists.  Still, the concept of the show was a tiny bit intriguing, and I’m a fan of both Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton.  Let’s just say that it’s been a few weeks since I started the first episode and I’ve been obsessively catching up with all the seasons since then.

Nashville is a one hour drama about a group of fictional singers and songwriters whom live in Nashville, Tennessee, the country-music capitol of the world.  Panettiere and Britton play two of the most successful singers in the business, Juliette Barnes and Rayna James, respectively.  The show is a bit like Glee in the sense that each episode features songs sung by the cast, but unlike Glee, each episode also includes an engaging and well-acted plot line (sorry to the Glee fans, but seriously?  Everything after the first season sucked, plot-wise).

To be fair, these songs are probably considered “country music-lite” as they aren’t the typical thing you’d think of in terms of traditional country music.  Juliette Barnes is an obvious play on Taylor Swift, while Rayna James sounds a hell of a lot like Shania Twain (and not just in the sense of their rhyming names).  Still, this suits me just fine, as radio-friendly country/pop is the only country music I can usually enjoy, and the album is filled with catchy hits.

The disc begins with Buried Under, a Rayna James song.  The track isn’t actually my favourite, but it’s worth noting that Britton has a pretty decent voice and definitely pulls off the country pop/rock sound quite well.

The song that really hooked me on the show and the music, though, is If I Didn’t Know Better, a mid-tempo ballad performed by Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen.  Nashville bluegrass duo, The Civil Wars, were the original singer/songwriter of this beautiful track, and though their version is lovely, I have to give it to Palladio and Bowen for making their cover even better than the original.  The sultry guitar work, Bowen’s playful vocals and Palladio’s soulful voice together makes for a silky, sensual song that begs to be listened to on repeat.

The other big duet on the album belongs to Britton and Charles Esten and their track, No One Will Ever Love You.  Most of the music on the show is produced by country music great, T Bone Burnett, and this swoony ballad has his name written all over it.  This definitely sounds like something Shania Twain would’ve sung back in her Come On Over days, and Britton gives her best Shania impression during the verses and heartbreaking chorus (“No one will ever love you/No one will ever love you, like I do…”).  Esten holds his own just as well, sounding like a truly heartbroken cowboy.  Combine the music with the twisted love story between Rayna and Deacon (Esten) and you’ve got a truly fantastic musical moment.

I’d be remiss to talk about this soundtrack without mentioning the Juliette Barnes songs.  As I mentioned before, Juliette is an obvious parallel to Taylor Swift (and even Carrie Underwood); her songs are more pop than country, and are filled with plenty of bombastic hooks and catchy choruses.  Still, I can’t knock this kind of music and I have to admit that all of it is ear candy.  Love Like Mine is probably my favourite of the Juliette songs; from its “you-go-girl”, empowering lyrics (“I might stay up drunk on wine, hurt like hell, and ugly cryin’ black mascara tears/I might lock my door, sleep with my phone, miss you bad for a month or so/But let me tell you somethin’ my dear/I’m gonna be just fine, but you’re never gonna find another love mine”) down to its ear-worm of a chorus, the song is pop music gold.  Panettiere has a decent voice- actually, much better than I expected- sweet, clear and filled with just the right amount of Southern twang.  Telescope is Juliette’s big single on the show, and it’s easy to see why- it’s everything country/pop radio songs are filled with: lyrics of getting revenge on a cheating lover (“You can’t hide from me/There ain’t no tricks that you can try on me/I know your every move before you even breathe, baby…”), a sing-along chorus, and a kick-ass guitar hook.  It’s hard to hear the song without thinking of Carrie Underwood actually; it definitely seems like a sequel to Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”

Clare Bowen performing during the Nashville cast tour.

Meanwhile, real country music star, Kacey Musgraves, co-wrote Juliette’s song, Undermine.  The track is one of Juliette’s more “mature” sounding songs, and it’s another good one.  Esten lends his voice to the track as well, and though it doesn’t have as much sparkle as the other Juliette tracks, it’s still a nice song, mostly thanks to the more organic, bluegrass sound.

The rest of the album is made up of numbers from the other cast members.  There are highs and lows; Esten’s solo track, Sideshow is far too twangy for my taste, and sounds like something you’d hear at a country bar somewhere in Texas- definitely not my thing.  Rayna and Juliette’s big duet, Wrong Song, isn’t terribly offensive, but it honestly doesn’t do much for me whenever I hear it.  I guess it’s just the wrong song for me.  Moving on from that bad pun…cast member Jonathan Jackson does a cover of Elvis Costello’s Twist of Barbwire.  I’m not familiar with the original, but I pretty much hate this version; Jackson’s voice is whiny and I can’t tell if this is meant to be rock, or country, or some whiny hybrid of both, and okay, to be totally honest I’m not actually sure if I hate this song because it’s actually bad or because Jackson’s character, Avery Barkley, is so detestable.  Maybe it’s both.

Thankfully, there’s a few good songs left- the first of which is performed by the show’s youngest cast members. Sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella play Rayna’s daughters on the show, and perform a cover of Telescope for their school talent show.  Their stripped-back rendition is not only adorable (the two girls harmonize so well!), but actually sounds better than the original.  Sorry, Juliette.   Following that track is another duet, by my favourite duo on the show, Palladio and Bowen.  When The Right One Comes Along is an understated ballad, and though it’s a lot quieter and less seductive than their other track on the album, the song is still a stunner.  Palladio and Bowen have great vocal chemistry and the song really reminds me of another of my favourite Nashville-bred acts, Sam & Ruby.

The Nashville: Season 1, Volume 1 soundtrack is pretty fantastic.  The disc is a great compilation of some of the best songs from the first half of the season (there’s also a Season 1, Volume 2 disc, which I may review later), and has sort of renewed my interest in country music.   Okay…you won’t catch me listening to the country music station any time soon, but maybe I’ll dust off my old Shania Twain albums.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Track Listing:
1. Buried Under
2. If I Didn’t Know Better
3. Undermine
4. Sideshow
5. Wrong Song
6. No One Will Ever Love You
7. Twist of Barbwire
8. Love Like Mine
9. Telescope
10. When the Right One Comes Along
11. Telescope [Radio Mix] – (remix)

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