Songs take a star­ring role on ABC’S ‘Nashville’

Ac­tors sing parts; 800,000 sin­gles from the show sold.

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - By chris tal­bott

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Buddy Miller says th­ese days it’s not un­usual for duet part­ners to cut their love songs syl­la­ble by syl­la­ble while never even see­ing each other: “In this town es­pe­cially that’s what hap­pens.”

That’s why the veteran Mu­sic City pro­ducer and band leader was so as­tounded by what he wit­nessed in the early days of work­ing on the mu­sic for the tele­vi­sion show “Nashville.” He was ner­vous about his ses­sion with Clare Bowen and Sam Pal­la­dio be­cause their song “If I Didn’t Know Bet­ter,” writ­ten by John Paul White of The Civil Wars and Arum Rae, was chal­leng­ing and served as a piv­otal moment in the pi­lot. It had to be right, and that de­pended on the young ac­tors be­ing able to pull it off.

“They didn’t know they didn’t have to mem­o­rize the song or look each other in the eyes when you’re singing a love song,” Miller said. “For those two who’d never sung in a stu­dio be­fore to go in there, look each other in the eyes with the song mem­o­rized and sing the song, I had goose bumps and so did ev­ery­body else in the room. ... That had a whole lot more soul in it than most of the stuff that gets cut in this town.”

The mu­sic of “Nasvhille” has been as much a star on the hour­long ABC drama as Con­nie Brit­ton, Hay­den Panet­tiere, Charles Esten, Jonathan Jack­son, Bowen and Pal­la­dio. Yes, each really does sing his or her own part, and so far fans seem to be re­spond­ing, buy­ing more than 800,000 dig­i­tal sin­gles. Panet­tiere’s “Tele­scope” has even cracked top 40 at coun­try ra­dio. The show’s sound­track will be re­leased by Big Ma­chine Records this week.

The ac­tors say they pay as much at­ten­tion to the mu­sic as their lines. T Bone Bur­nett, hus­band of show cre­ator Cal­lie Khouri, over­sees the mu­sic on the show and has signed up veteran pro­duc­ers and song­writ­ing friends like White and Civil Wars part­ner Joy Wil­liams and Elvis Costello, to name just a few, and set up a live band of trusted play­ers. Each song is shaped in the stu­dio be­fore it’s taped for tele­vi­sion.

“They’re like lit­tle plants and they’re all very well taken care of by the right peo­ple,” Bowen said.

Choos­ing the right songs has been a lot like choos­ing the right di­a­logue or lo­ca­tion. Miller said each be­comes a part of the char­ac­ter’s story, help­ing to push the nar­ra­tive along. For Bowen and Pal­la­dio, who play the as­pir­ing — and mu­tu­ally in­fat­u­ated — singers Scar­lett and Gun­ner, the key moment was “If I Didn’t Know Bet­ter.”

For stars Brit­ton and Panet­tiere, who play ri­val coun­try di­vas Rayna and Juli­ette, the key moment came a few weeks ago when they took the stage at Ry­man Au­di­to­rium for their own duet, “Wrong Song.” Af­ter weeks of spite­ful re­la­tions, the two tem­po­rar­ily put aside their dif­fer­ences and the song served as a touch­stone for both dis­grun­tled characters.

Miller calls Brit­ton’s per­for­mance “fierce” and the 45-year-old ac­tress says mo­ments like those were the rea­son she chose to pur­sue the part.

“Once you hit 40 you sort of feel like you’re sort of set in your ways and kind of know what you’re good at,” Brit­ton said. Tak­ing a risk and go­ing be­yond her com­fort zone brought a lot of chal­lenges and fear, she said. “But it’s also good to know you can al­ways throw your­self some­thing new and at the end of the day, at least for me, when I really stretch is when I feel alive and really feel the re­wards of that hard work.”

Most of the ac­tors had some back­ground in mu­si­cal per­for­mance, but it’s been years since Brit­ton gave up singing to fo­cus solely on act­ing. Her per­for­mances have been a rev­e­la­tion for fans and crit­ics alike, and her peers are re­peat­edly as­tounded.

“Just be­cause some­body’s an ac­tress doesn’t mean they’re a rock star, but she’s do­ing it,” Bowen said.

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