If Only Nashville Were More Like 'Nashville'


I have a few talented musical friends and acquaintances to whom I’ve said: “You’re just about the only thing between me and hating country music.” Funny thing is, sadly ironic in fact, I love country music… let me amend that … real and good country music. These days that’s in spite of the tripe and cheese that is the majority of what comes out of Nashville these days. Even here in Texas where I live – a state that prides itself on being true to the genuine country music spirit and style – there’s also a whole lot of crap being slung around under the country music banner

And to compound the irony, I have come to love the ABC TV series Nashville more and more with every episode in its second season. I tuned in at the start of season one on something of a lark, figured with all the time I’ve spent in that city in and around its music industry and all the country music artists I’ve written about over what’s now close to 40 years of music journalism that it would at the very least be interesting and possibly amusing.

At first blush I typed the show as a nighttime soap opera, a bit of fluff if also slightly seductive. From the start I liked star Connie Britton’s character, Rayna James, a veteran country singer, not just because I so enjoyed her on Friday Night Lights as Tammi Taylor, wife of coach TK Taylor and school administrator in the show’s true-to-life small Texas town. On the other hand, I found her younger country artist/diva semi-nemesis, Julliette Barnes, played by Hayden Pantierre, rather irritating (then again, that is part of the soap equation).

But as the first season rolled on, I was hooked and engaged by the plots and drama. And began marveling at how much better the music on the show was than what the actual Nashville record labels were releasing. That was no surprise. The show’s executive music producer was T-Bone Burnett, the producer (as well as songwriter and artist in his own right in the past) behind such the sounds and songs in such wonderfully and credibly musical films as O Brother, Where Art Thou, Crazy Heart and most recently Inside Llewyn Davis.

By the end of its initial 21 episodes, I was sold. The show gets the real life soap opera that is the county music industry with surprising credibility. If it is cheese, it’s high-quality organic cheese of the tastiest and most satisfying sort was my final take after season one, a good solid B grade TV show, maybe even B-plus. It was unafraid to take on the serious issues in a business with its own odd ways, and it was feeling not far off the mark of uncannily resembling reality. I was awaiting the second season with an appetite for more.

And the show not only delivered in its second round that started last September, but found its secure footing and began to briskly jog like a champ in stride with its drama, plot twists and characters. The once irksome Julliette Barnes began to grow on me and began to impress me with her spunk and a growing depth. (On truly good TV, characters grow.) One of more compelling subplots involved an aspiring young male country singer who is a deeply closeted and conflicted homosexual, and not just because one of the sad and slightly ugly secrets of the country music industry is it professional homophobia. Nashville the show has the swagger to take on what Nashville the “Music City” tries to deny and keep under wraps. Every aspect of the show jumped to grade A quality.

And the music got even better. That was no surprise to me as Burnette’s assistant in season one, Buddy Miller, took over his job. If I had to point to one person whose own albums as well as those with his wife Julie have epitomized how smart, genuine, eloquent, spirited and full of heart plus true to the best of the tradition contemporary country music can and should be, it’s him. It’s why icons like Emmylou Harris work with him. And, full disclosure, I know Miller – we bonded as pallbearers for a dearly beloved mutual friend in the late ’90s – and he’s one of the truly nicest and decent human beings I’ve ever known. Yes, nice guys can finish at the front of the race, and his sense of quality and ear for what makes a darn good song are in full evidence on the show.

Yep, Nashville the TV show and its music is far better than Nashville the music community and the music it produces (though there are still some country chart acts I like, such as the spunky Miranda Lambert and the sublime Band Perry, though their likes are all too rare in that genre these days). And the show has reminded me how, yes, I do very much like country music, love it at its best. Now if only today’s real life country were as good as the show. But maybe the show will rub off on Music City and raise a sadly low bar.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2014


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