The Nashville television show is fiction, but the music is real.
Nashville’s first season of music was produced by Grammy and Oscar winner T-Bone Burnett. He’s produced some of Country’s best-reviewed and award-winning albums, and he’s done the same for movie soundtracks, including movies by the Coen Brothers. Burnett doesn’t follow the latest Pop/Country trends, instead, he produces music the way he believes it should sound…which is authentic.
Burnett was assisted by another Grammy-winning musician, songwriter, and producer Buddy Miller. Miller took over the Executive Music Producer position after the first season…which was in 2012. Nashville was created by Academy Award winner Callie Khouri, who wrote the screenplay for Thelma & Louise.
So…there were quality artists behind the scenes for both the music and the drama. The cast had to be talented as actors and as singers.
The two lead characters are Rayna Jaymes, a legendary Country star played by Connie Britton (who had been in critically acclaimed “Friday Night Lights”)…and Juliette Barnes, a young successful Country/Pop star played by Hayden Panettiere (who was popular from her role in the TV series “Heroes”). The beginning of the series was about the competition between these two Country stars. Both actresses were critically praised for their performances on Nashville. Hayden is the stronger musical performer, and also has the dance chops to make believable music videos in the show.
Deacon Claybourne, Rayna’s guitarist and love of her life, is played by Charles Esten. Esten had starred as Buddy Holly in “Buddy” on the London stage in the ’90’s, and appeared as a guest in many TV series…from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to “The Office”.
The show found vocal gold with Clare Bowen (who’s Australian) and Sam Palladio (who’s British). They play Scarlett & Gunnar, a couple of up-and-coming singer/songwriters. The duets by these two “When The Right One Comes Along”, “If I Didn’t Know Better”, “I Will Fall” and “Fade Into You” were highlights of the first season. They were the first two actors cast. The above photo shows them on the set that duplicates the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
Even more vocal gold came in the form of two real-life sisters, Lennon & Maisy Stella. The younger sister, Maisy, auditioned for the part of Rayna’s daughter. When the producers found out Maisy had a sister, and that they sang beautiful harmonies together on popular YouTube videos, they decided Rayna had two daughters (Maddie & Daphne) at the ages of these two young stars. Lennon & Maisy are the daughters of a musical duo popular in Canada, The Stellas.
The love of Juliette’s life is Avery Barkley, played by Jonathan Jackson. The final major musical character is Will Lexington, played by Chris Carmack. Both Jackson & Carmack have acting and musical backgrounds, and are good guitarists.
Besides talented music producers and solid actor/vocalists, Nashville’s secret to having a lot of great music over six seasons is that they use many of the real Nashville’s up-and-coming songwriters, some who’ve become better known since the show started. Contributing songwriters include…Nashville duo The Civil Wars, Kacey Musgraves, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Sarah Siskind, Kate York, Sara Buxton, Steve McEwan, Sarah Zimmerman, Justin Davis, Trent Dabbs, Jake Ethridge, Garrison Starr, and many more.
The music is fully integrated into the show. The songs reflect what the characters are experiencing in their lives, especially because they’re supposedly writing the songs. The shows producers literally sort through thousands of songs to find ones that work. They also say some songs they find are so good they’ve written scripts in order to work the songs into the show. One of the stated purposes of the producers of Nashville was to provide new songwriters a way to get their music heard. Based on interviews with the songwriters, the plan has definitely worked.
(After four seasons on ABC, and two on CMT, Nashville is coming to an end this summer.)
The show produced over 40 new recordings each year. I select about 24 songs from each season to be on my “Nashville Best Season 1” through “Nashville Best Season 6” playlists…a total of 144 songs. I’m not a major Country fan, but most of the songs on Nashville are more in the singer/songwriter vein, and some lean to Pop & Rock, because that’s the kind of music the various characters would perform.
I’ve put together some suggestions of songs you could check out on streaming services. Just Google…Nashville Cast and the title of the song…most are on YouTube. Or if you’re using Siri or Alexa, just ask them to play the song title and “by Nashville Cast”.
Songs by Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio (as Scarlett & Gunnar)
- When The Right One Comes Along
- If I Didn’t Know Better
- Fade Into You
- Something’s Gotta Give
Songs by Lennon & Maisy Stella (as Maddie & Daphne)
- A Life That’s Good
- Beautiful Dream (ballad version) [by Lennon]
- Come And Find Me (by Maisy)
Songs by Hayden Panettiere (as Juliette)
- Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet
- Nothing In This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again
Songs by Charles Esten (as Deacon)
- Friend Of Mine
- I Know How To Love You Now
- Always Keep On Loving You
Songs by other cast members
- Borrow My Heart (Jonathan Jackson with Clare & Sam)
- History Of My Heart (Jonathan Jackson)
- The Blues Have Blown Away (Connie Britton with Lennon & Maisy)
- Surrender (Connie Britton with Charles Esten)
It’s not easy to instantly like songs on the first listen, but give it a try, and maybe you’ll enjoy The Music Of Nashville too. You certainly don’t need to see the show to appreciate the songs. “Nashville” is ending, but the music transcends the show.