Forget the melodrama, the only reason you need to watch Nashville is the music, and the quality of the songs is the one thing the show must maintain as it heads into its second season tonight. Nashville is by all means not a perfect show. It has some boring political plot lines, all the male actors basically look the same, and ended its first season with a cliffhanger that seemed way over the top. Connie Britton is predictably fabulous as the Faith Hill-ish Rayna James, while Hayden Panettiere surprisingly steals the show, making her character Juliette Barnes the series' bitchy heart. Really, though, the reason I stayed with the show was to see what songs the characters would sing that I could add to my iTunes library.
The music always felt organic in the context of the show, but it could also stand alone. You could, say, play it for someone with no explanation needed. It does, after all, come from real life up and comers in the country music industry. Yes, there's an argument to be made that the music does vary in quality. A post by Kim Reuhl at alt-country publication No Depression takes aim at the songs sung by Britton's Rayna, which are the weakest links in the show, but the great songs far make up for the lack.
What's concerning going into the second season is the departure of legend T Bone Burnett as executive music producer. Burnett, who happens to be married to creator Callie Khouri, is nothing short of a genius when it comes to constructing soundtracks and country music is well in his wheelhouse. Khouri, however, told The Hollywood Reporter's Lesley Goldberg that there's an effort this season "to keep it more on purpose this year -- and not just have five to six songs in each episode -- but make them really count."
Even if Khouri thinks there's some honing to be done when it comes to the music, the first season set a great precedent. Let's look at some examples.
The song that made the biggest impression at the start of the show was the duet, originally a Civil Wars song, "If I Didn't Know Better" from young will-they-or-won't they couple Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio). (Spoiler alert: they did.)
But the song that really hooked me was "Undermine." On the show this song is proof that Panettiere's Juliette is more than just a pop tart. It's unsurprising that it was written by Kacey Musgraves, whose major-label debut album Same Trailer, Different Park has drawn raves and a New York Times Magazine profile.
Juliette's poppy stuff is great too, though. Take for instance "Love Like Mine."
Some other favorites include Scarlett's "Looking for a Place to Shine," Juliette's "Hypnotizing," and even Rayna's "Stronger Than Me." But perhaps the best news about the upcoming season, however, is that Lennon and Maisy Stella, who play Rayna's daughters, were upped to series regulars. The Stella sisters gained Internet fame before joining the show for their expert covers. (See: Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend.") Last season they weren't given as much to do as we would have liked, but when they did it was excellent. Listen to their cover of "Ho Hey," performed on the show. Don't worry, it's better than the Lumineers' original version.