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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nashville

Another show I watched regularly ended quite recently so let me share with you a few reflections on the whole of

er-nashvilleNashville (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A TV show about the country music industry in Nashville, focusing, at least at first, on two divas: Rayna James played by Connie Britton and Juliette Barnes played by Hayden Panettiere. The show had six seasons, two of which happened on another TV station after the first one cancelled it, and most of the initial premise didn’t last past season one but it also sometimes dealt with local politics and a lot of family drama and always provided a lot of sudsy entertainment, even at its worst.

How I found it:
Six years ago when the show debuted I was quite up to date on all the new TV happening (not so much since) so I was immediately interested in it from the preview. And the first season really grabbed my interest.

Summary judgment:
It never lived up to the initial promise but I still enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Best things about it:
Season one and what the show tried to do then promised a quality story about an interesting corner of the world and it did deliver a part of it. I didn’t care so much about the diva rivalry and I didn’t mind when they dropped it but, unfortunately, together they also gave up on more mature aspects of the original story and replaced them with a whole bunch of random guest stars and increasingly ridiculous plotlines.

Worst things about it:
As hinted above, the fact that the show didn’t manage to remain what it set out to be, instead becoming a true soap opera with many caricatures instead of characters and many ridiculously contrived stories. It gradually gave up on treating Nashville as an interesting place worth showing, replacing the local color with generic settings. And after season one the music got worse, too.

Other pluses:
✤ Still, some of the music was pretty good. True, most of it veered toward bland pop (which I think is true of most popular country today?) but every now and then they offered a song that stood out, particularly those sang by the marvelous (and fan-hated, for some reason) Clare Bowen.
✤ Clare Bowen deserves a separate bullet point because while her character, Scarlett, rarely got a worthy storyline and was mostly manipulated into boring would-be romances, she always managed to deliver a heartfelt performance and she sings beautifully.
✤ Special mention to other actors I enjoyed on the show: Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson (another hated couple) and, unsurprisingly, Connie Britton. Also, the Stella sisters, sometimes. In general, many of the actors and the relations they build between the characters lift the show above a soap, even when writing doesn’t, and make the stories more human and believable.

Other minuses:
✤ From season three the shows gets a bit boring. In fact, when I was trying to rewatch all of it, I only got so far as the beginning of season three and gave up. I did enjoy revisiting the first one, though.
✤ Most of the later storylines are so random, centering on new characters that’s just been dropped on us and giving them up later without proper resolution. It often feels like the creators weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the characters in the long run.
✤ I know she was a fan-favorite but I almost never liked Juliette or missed her when she disappeared from the show for episodes at a time. There’s just something about Hayden Panettiere in this role that grates on my nerves.

How it enriched my life:
While it was never the most exciting watch of the week for me, it almost always delivered an hour of pleasure. And even though the show grew weaker and weaker as the seasons went by, I was still sorry to see it go.

Fun fact:
I’m not saying I did buy I’m not saying I didn’t listen to some of the soundtrack albums, particularly for the first two seasons.

Ah, I wish there was one but so far I have found nothing to fill this hole in my heart that is reserved for a show about mostly acoustic music and the drama it causes among those who sacrifice their life to it. Granted, it’s a very specific hole.

Recommended for:
People looking for a slightly better soap for whom its saturation with country music is a good thing not a deterrent.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tropic of Cancer

Sounds of Music

Songbook: Drinkin’

First, out with it: I am a tentative country fan. That is, when I listen to a country playlist, I will probably dislike most of it. But every now and then a song comes along and it’s so country and I love it so much. Like this little gem by Holly Williams, who’s apparently Hank Williams’ granddaughter: it was love at first hearing.

“Drinkin’” by Holly Williams

Album: The Highway

Year: 2014

Category: Recent acquisitions

Why it rocks:
It sways rather than rocks (but it does pick up later on) in a ditty about an unhappy, abusive marriage. But despite the bitter ending, the melody and the delivery leave you with the feeling that this woman will rise strong again. And it’s this quality that differs this song from most maudlin wasted-life tearjerkers.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Hey, why are you cheatin’ on a woman like this / I raise your babies and I kiss your lips / So why are you cheatin’ on a woman like this.” This is a woman who knows her value despite everything.

Favorite moment:
When after the last verse the music picks up once again and the song doesn’t end on a desperate note.

Best for: The necessary moment of sadness before you get to rise again.

Listen here.

Sounds of Music

When the Sun’s Gone Down: My Current Only One

er-whenthesunsgonedownI have had a patchy relationship with Spotify’s Discover feature: what with it constantly suggesting either bland pop folk with all the bands completely indistinguishable or, sometimes, things compared to which techno radio from the 80s sounds a treat (seriously, what in my music history suggests a liking for scary electronica?). But recently it has sent my way music so great that it has by now completely messed up my scrobbling statistics and now my top artist is one I haven’t even heard of a couple of weeks ago, named Langhorne Slim.

Now, my friends are great people but somehow I don’t know anyone with whom I could discuss my folky inclinations and after hearing When the Sun’s Gone Down so, so many times I just need to share my abundant feelings – while my husband can only suffer so much. So, thank you imaginary internet audience for being here to listen.

The album has everything I like and, what is more, it works together: frantic guitar strumming, underproduced abrasive sound, catchy melodies and addictiveness. The frantic guitar (or is it banjo? I don’t care) kicks right in from the beginning with the great “In the Midnight” where you can catch such intriguing snippets as “I wasn’t faking all my quest to love you less” and this energy continues for a few dynamic songs. A short instrumental song bridges into the second part of the album which is more mixed: it has both quick songs similar to the first ones and a few slower, more bizarre ones (which, after hearing the album a few dozen times I did find a little tiresome). This leads to the incredible, sort of titular “By the Time the Sun’s Gone Down.” If the similarity of the title suggests this to be the most important song of the album, that would be quite right because it is here that the rawness leads to wonderful frankness and emotionality. Even though it’s one of the most subdued numbers of the album, to me it’s most memorable.

After that, the album picks up again with a few lighthearted songs, leading to the closing, clownish and dance-hallish “I Love to Dance” that leaves you with a smile (or, you know, just opens again into “In the Midnight” if you’re me). All too rarely I chance upon an album that I can listen to over and over again. And when it’s by someone whose sense of humor and vocals (generally higher than I like) remind me of sort-of-early Dylan (when he discovered playing with a band but still had some self-distance) – well, if you know me at all, you know that’s about the highest musical compliment I can think of. I’m sorry Langhorne Slim is not more famous (which means he’ll never ever come to play here) but I hope at least my obsessive spotifying of his songs will earn him a few cents and add to his sense of appreciation.

Sounds of Music

Between Folk and Country: To Willie

er-towillieOn my old blog I had a small space to share the music I was listening to and so I didn’t have to actually write a lot about it except for a title and a few superlatives. Now I either don’t mention it at all or feel obliged to come up with something deeper to say and frankly not a lot of music deserves that effort. But here’s something that does.

To Willie by Phosphorescent is a tribute to, no surprise here, Willie Nelson, one of country legends. Now, where I come from country is not popular and most people can’t tell Johnny Cash from Dolly Parton but it still has a faint stink of stigma, like it’s something only truck drivers would listen to. As I was growing up I had no reason to disbelieve that and stayed away from country (which isn’t hard at all) until I started listening to Bob Dylan. I still scoffed at his more country-like tunes and even though I heard Pat Garret soundtrack a million and seven times I usually skipped “Turkey Chase” – until I didn’t. Dylan was my backdoor to country and when I later got to know Johnny Cash I had to face the facts: there was something about country I could really enjoy. (It’s the rhythm. And the acoustic aspect, but especially the rhythm.)

However, prejudice is a hard thing to shed and I never feel entirely comfortable admitting to people, or myself, that I like country classics or anyone that emulates them (except for Johnny Cash; he’s so beyond any of that). Luckily, there are so many ways to skin the cat – or, more importantly, to tinker with labels to avoid discomfort. And so while I don’t exactly listen to country, I really like various other genres: like americana, or folk, or especially indie folk.

There’s only one problem with that: many indie folk artists, while they definitely have the heart, lack the old masters’ ability to craft a catching and powerful tune. And so, to come back to Phosphorescent, the union between this modern rendition and the classic, melodic sound works wonderfully for me. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and I still find it very strong, but it actually moved me the first time I heard its second song “Too Sick to Pray,” and this really doesn’t happen too often.

Even though I’m a lyrics junkie, I can hardly relate to Nelson’s lyrics about partying hard or feeling bad after partying so hard. Still, the hypnotic sound that Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck weaves makes the songs go beyond their pretty trivial literal meaning and speak of existence (and isn’t it a joyous subject). What is more, the record is wonderfully consistent. After listening to any album for a few times I will normally pick a song or, at most, three that I like and never return to the rest. But even though I have favorites from To Willie (“Reasons to Quit”, “Too Sick to Pray” and “The Party’s Over”, since you didn’t ask) listening to the entire album remains a powerful experience: at times calming, at times saddening, but never leaving those heartstrings of mine indifferent.