Today is a two-fer. Both a Muse (of sorts) and a Review. Aren’t I efficient? 😉
I’ve been wanting to talk about Nashville, but it struck me that no such review could possibly do the show justice without mentioning the music. A lot. And one can’t do the music justice without mentioning the show. A lot.
First, the show:
Set mostly in the titular city, heart of the country music industry, Nashville tells the story of various country artists at various stages in their careers. The plot generally centers around two in particular: Rayna James, the Queen of Country fighting to not fade into the background, and Juliette Barnes, a relative newbie struggling to be more than a flash in the pan.
I emphasize “generally” because while there are a number of “secondary” characters, there are virtually no minor characters. Everyone has a story, and they all take the spotlight in turns. There are triumphs and tragedies, joy and heartbreak, intelligent decisions and stupid-beyond-stupid mistakes, love and selfishness, and intrigue that can put even the complex, evolving, and unpredictable web found in Game of Thrones to shame (reviewing that show and the books at a later date). This is for several reasons: Nashville is undiluted by graphic sex and violence, they achieve complexity with every single episode as opposed to entire seasons, and you can afford to get attached to the characters without just waiting around for them to get killed off.
To summarize what Nashville does right: it creates complex, believable characters we can often relate to in some fashion, navigating the world and driving the intricate plot forward. Some characters make bad mistakes, and they must endure the consequences. It’s exhilarating, though, when they turn themselves and their lives around, becoming better people for making those mistakes. Others are always trying their hardest, and their determination and endurance are inspiring. Yet others make a choice that they think is what they want, but then find it really isn’t, and so are still finding their way. And then, of course, are the truly despicable characters, thankfully few and far between, who seem intent only on spreading their misery. Overall, I enjoy watching all these characters. Major kudos to the actors for bringing all of these fictitious people to brilliant, stunning life. And they can sing, too! 😉
Bonus: I love how they get some of the real-life stars of country music to appear on the show! It’s already a lot like watching something that could have happened in the real world, and the cameos of various stars enriches that texture all the more.
As for what it does wrong: good grief, must they pursue every… single… coupling… POSSIBLE?! Thank goodness they draw a line between what they do and don’t show, but it’s more than a little annoying sometimes, especially when you know there are going to be some real consequences for these actions. Granted, the people behind the show know how to use that in pushing their characters’ stories forward (or backward, or any-ward), which is more than can be said for other shows, but, still, annoying.
Just one note, a positive one, about the last week’s episode: this one seemed primarily about couples navigating the hardships of mistakes, enduring strained relationships, but coming together, some sooner, some later, to heal. I like that particular theme.
Now, with all of that said, the other half of this: the soundtrack!
I don’t know who they have making all of this music, but they do a phenomenal job! They create so many different, distinct songs, with so many moods, even of varying qualities (they do have some characters who are sub-par musicians), and most of them fit perfectly with the characters, their experiences, what they’re feeling at the moment, and the tone of what’s happening in the plot right as the music is playing. Whatever can be said about Nashville, everything around the music is masterful work of craftsmanship!
A few favorites off the top of my head:
“Don’t Put Dirt on My Grave Just Yet,” sung by Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), expressing her fighting spirit in the face of hardship, in this case a self-righteous critics and a malicious label head. It was also sung alongside Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) at an event for American troops and their families.
“If I Didn’t Know Better,” sung by Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio). This was the first real Nashville song, in the pilot episode. They sang it just as I was about to decide whether to follow the show or not, and it sank the hook deep, with its mournful, melancholy regret.
“Wrong Song,” sung by Juliette Barnes and Rayna James (Connie Britton). This was the first time the two artists overcame their differences, beginning what would become, after a number of hurdles and disagreements, a strong friendship based upon mutual respect. As it happens, the song is about a man who does not respect his woman.
“Black Roses,” sung by Scarlett O’Connor, expressing the heartbreak she felt under the spiteful abuse of her mother.
“Buried Under,” sung by Rayna James, talking about the terrible secrets of someone close to her.
“Ball and Chain,” sung by Rayna James and Luke Wheeler, expressing the feelings of a couple who just drive each other crazy but love each other so much they can’t do without.
“Everything I’ll Ever Need,” sung by Juliette Barnes and Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), about a simple, happy love. Why is she dressed incognito? Watch the show and find out! 😉
Keep in mind, these and a couple dozen of others are just the music that has lyrics. There’s plenty of background music that sets the country texture perfectly. The only downside in how brilliant the lyrical songs are, is that the rest of the soundtrack gets easily overshadowed. And that’s a shame.
So, if I might prop up the musical division of Nashville as a collection of muses, as the show is good without their work, but great with it.