Most movie and TV series soundtracks featured established and sometimes emerging artists whose songs have been picked either because they enhance some development in the storyline, because the director or producer liked them or because they’re the product of a record company that is owned by same parent company as the movie studio. It is usually only musicals – including animated musicals – that have songs created especially for the storyline.
The soundtrack for Nashville, the TV series screening on Foxtel (Soho) in Australia and ABC in the USA, is none of these things. Created by Callie Khouri (best known as the writer of Thelma and Louise), the series centres on two female country music stars: Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton, and Juliette Barnes, played by Hayden Panettiere. It has a ‘second tier’ (although not inferior tier) of cast members including Whose Line is It Anyway? stalwart Charles Esten, and newcomers Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio; Jonathan Jackson, Chris Carmack and the Stella sisters, Lennon and Maisy.
All of these actors sing the songs their characters perform on the show, and the show’s music director is T Bone Burnett, who happens to be Khouri’s husband. One can theorise as to whether or not Burnett’s closeness to the development of the show – via Khouri – was likely to benefit the creation of the soundtrack; the reality is that the soundtrack – not just both released volumes but the songs seen on the show and left off the albums – is a success.
The show’s producers, and Burnett, had to compete for the good songs coming out of ‘Music
Volume I features the songs that have a more prominent part in the season 1 storyline, such as Britton’s ‘Buried Under’ and Panettiere’s ‘Telescope’; Volume II, however, is arguably the better album, given that it is able to feature the songs that were used to build scenes and characters rather than announce plot developments.
The musical revelations on the album are those second-tier cast members mentioned above. Bowen and Palladio sing together on several tracks and their voices are not only lovely but beautifully matched. The Stella sisters are children but musically very mature. Jackson has an established musical career already and his experience shows. And Carmack should be given his own solo recording contract immediately, if not sooner, because it is he – out of everyone who sings on this soundtrack – who really gets inside the genre and seems to not only love it but know how to work it. Collectively, the talent alone on these albums would make them worth your time. But then there are the songs, too.
Many of the songs tend to be on the rock and pop end of country – and the songs for Panettiere’s character are meant to be country pop - but they are still identifiably country. And with tracks by Kacey Musgraves (‘Undermine’), Ashley Monroe (‘Consider Me’, ‘You Ain’t Dolly) and Patty Griffin (‘We Are Water’) appearing, these are albums that showcase a variety of country music songs to audiences old and new. The result is two albums of songs full of potential favourites, and intriguing new voices to discover.
The soundtrack won’t please anyone who is looking for a singular musical vision – but that could never have worked for this show anyway. There are strong characters on Nashville and they have strong opinions about music. The wonder of this soundtrack is that those opinions – the characters’ preferences and abilities – are reflected in the recordings.
And the season 2 soundtrack is just as good …
Nashville, Original Soundtrack Season 1, Volumes 1 and 2 are out now through Universal in Australia and, of course, on iTunes.