I don’t watch much TV (no really, I don’t! Do I protest too much? Ha!). Being a self-employed, gigging songwriter/musician, I don’t have cable for both financial and productivity reasons. But there’s a new network TV show that I adore: ABC’s Nashville. In hopes of making the case for scheduling a second season for this TV show, allow me to explain why I love it.


Rayna and Deacon, together at last!


1. Connie Britton as Rayna Jaymes. The only word to describe her flawless, nuanced performance as a glamorous 40-something singer/mom of two/successful business woman is fabulous. But I can’t ignore the rest of the casting, which is equally brilliant, as is most of the writing and dialogue. Chip Esten is deliciously cute, reminiscent of many sidemen I’ve met who balance the hard-won maturity of their 40s with ageless rock-star verve. Even the banter he shares with other musicians is spot-on, such as when he joked with the superstar rock band that hired him for a tour that their songs were easy to learn, since they all sound the same.

Sylvia Jefferies plays Jolene Barnes

Sylvia Jefferies plays Jolene Barnes, mother of Juliette.

Hayden Panettierre does a great job with a slightly unattractive role as the prematurely hardened pop tart Juliette Barnes. Her now-clean meth-addict mother Jolene is fearlessly played by Sylvia Jefferies.

The actor who played Juliette’s husband was perfect too, and ably brought the character of a fundamentalist Christian football player who believes in virginity until marriage to life. I find it a little weird that actors actually from the South weren’t hired, as far as I can tell, but even the British (Sam Palladio as Gunnar) and Australian (Clare Bowen as Scarlett) ones do a great job, and their accents sound fine to my California ear. Don’t know if an actual Southerner would agree.

2. Singer-songwriters who spend a lot of time sitting in their living rooms playing the guitar. I can attest to the fact that writing and practicing music is a pretty low-key business, and involves hours and days and months of tedium. You might think that being a musician is full of excitement. The onstage part or the finished recording is just the final product, but incredibly detailed and dedicated work behind the scenes makes it happen. Also, watching the songwriters write and quietly play their naked songs inspires me to compose more myself.

3. Recording studio porn. Some of those studios and consoles are pretty amazing, and for a recording artist, fun to look at and imagine being there. Though I personally have never recorded harmony without wearing cans (earphones) or being isolated in a separate vocal booth from the other singer. But perhaps that’s realistic in country? I don’t know.

Juliette and Deacon in the studio

Juliette and Deacon in the studio


4. Great singer-songwriter music showcased with beautiful voices and realistic production values. I must give a shout out to Lennon and Maisy Stella, real-life sisters and breathtakingly gifted singers who play the children of Rayna and her estranged husband Teddy. Their musical ability ties in nicely with the paternity issues hinted at in the storyline.

Lennon and Maisy are real-life singing prodigies.

Lennon and Maisy are real-life singing prodigies.

Via Twitter, I’ve learned about a few songwriters whose work I’ve gotten to admire in the show, such as Kate York, who has several songs picked up by Nashville, and Ashley Monroe from the Pistol Annies, who I discovered after hearing her lovely song Shine on the show. She also wrote You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter) and Consider Me, which were also sung by cast members of Nashville. This Wall Street Journal article, The Real Songwriters of Nashville, explains the process by which show creator Callie Khouri’s husband, T Bone Burnett, produces the songs that the series music supervisor Frankie Pine selects from real Nashville songwriters. The show blurs fiction and truth by releasing the songs recorded by the actors as their characters on iTunes and even having success with music videos.

5. Modern professional women falling in love and hooking up without a bunch of moralizing. There’s no denying this show has a female point of view. Guess what? Females, like males, enjoy fantasies of having lots of hot potential partners around catering to them. The women are sexy and irresistible and they know it. Perhaps Juliette gets a bit more punishment for her completely rock-star take on sexuality, but hopefully there won’t be any veering into retribution for her being so wanton. Everything she does is just what a man would, but he’d never fear judgement for enjoying the opportunities presented by having hot guys around. Now, there are some bad consequences of Juliette’s appetite, but they have more to do with trust than sex. Come to think of it, it was a nice twist to have the virgin be the hunky football player she tricked into marrying her (she tricked herself too) so she could scratch her itch.

6. Strong women who have it all without cautionary tales. At no point does this show try to imply that a woman’s personal life will affect her musical success — as it traditionally is with men, career is considered separate from motherhood or romance. The show does appear to shy a bit from implying that Rayna fools around much or at all, perhaps to keep her motherhood image pristine, but the younger guitarist Liam was her boy toy for a minute once her marriage was over. Britton plays Rayna so well as a self-assured, sensual woman who knows what she wants and uses her charisma without artifice.

7. Musical collaboration, pro and con. Making music is mainly done in a group, and so is much of songwriting. As such, you have behavioral dynamics to deal with. The show portrays this so well. Who’s the fame whore? Who’s the egotist? Who is insecure? Who’s the workhorse? Who’s the saboteur?

8. Realistic record industry insight. Perhaps the part of the music business that scares me the most is the corporate aspect. I’ve had only the smallest taste of being on a record label, but the loss of control and the random discussions with higher-ups making decisions about how you present your art were perhaps the two bits I liked least. Having worked in the corporate world as a magazine editor, a creative job itself, I nonetheless fear some of the business machinations one would have to go through on a label. But Rayna and Juliette and the other characters show a panoply of interactions that are just plain fun to watch as they jockey for label positioning, seek tour funding and the like.

9. Realistic presentation of touring at a stadium-level, balanced with small night-club gigs. Not having played any arenas myself, I can only dream of it. This presents it with a decidedly professional, female-bandleader slant, with a few contrasts thrown in from the male standpoint, such as when Deacon joins the sex-crazed, now-sober superstars and his niece nearly gets raped by the evil macho bandleader. Of course I love being a fly on the wall for sound checks and rehearsals and testy blowups with managers or guitarists.

Rayna onstage

Rayna onstage

10. Insight into the Nashville song-publishing world. Music City is the sleeper star of this show. We get a peek into a town where songwriting is a major industry, not in a Los Angeles/celebrity sense but more in a skillful, experienced and collaborative sense. A town where working in the music business could mean any number of things outside of musicianship, from publisher to roadie to executive to personal assistant. And the country flavor is lovely, yet not excessive for someone like me who is not much of a country music listener but a longtime fan of songwriters like Dolly Parton. The songs have that 70s crossover feel of Neil Young or Linda Ronstadt, from a time when perhaps there was less rigid demographic science put into country music (most of the hits on country radio here in the Bay Area make it explicit that this is music for rednecks who like beer and trucks). Actually, the term for this type of music is Americana. And it’s a genre I never get tired of!

I hope my songwriter-focused homage to Nashville doesn’t put a nail in its coffin. Industry news calls the show a moderate success with a dedicated fan base. I love the accurate portrayal of songwriting, but there’s plenty there for anyone who simply wants delicious, soapy drama. If it were a documentary or entirely focused on mixing consoles or contract negotiations, that would be no fun. None of it would work without the perfect cast and twisty situations. The best way to explain anything is with a story. Nashville gives you stories galore.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get a song on Nashville myself!