Recording information: House Of Blues, Nashville, TN; Sound Emporium Studios, Nashville, TN; Station West Studios, Nashville, TN; The Red Room, Nashville, TN; Treasure Isle Studios, Nashville, TN; Westwood Studios, Nashville, TN.
Buddy Miller took over the role of executive music producer for the musical ABC drama Nashville from T-Bone Burnett for season two, and is the in-studio producer for much of what's included on this first volume. Burnett's not missed. Arguably, Miller's song choices are stronger because most of these performances reflect the show better than Burnett's idiosyncratic choices. As a whole, this set is more diverse than either of its predecessors and at least as consistent. The highlights from the series' veterans include Lennon & Maisy Stella's "Life Is Good," and "Share with You," which are redolent of historical country music tunes; though they're presented in a contemporary setting, their harmonies are timeless. The other nod to county's storied past is in Charley Rose's excellent a cappella version of "Wayfaring Stranger." Jonathan Jackson's youthful reading of Mary Gauthier's and Gretchen Peters' "How You Learn to Live Alone" is one of the finest ballads on the set, equaled only perhaps by Clare Bowen's and Sam Palladio's version of Kim Richey's and Angelo Petraglia's "Why Can't I Say Goodnight?" Speaking of Palladio, his reading of Matthew Perryman Jones' and Lily Costner's "Just Can't Get It Right" reflects the teeming, talented Nashville underground, with its swirling, minor-key melody adorned by accordion, banjo, mandolin, and slithering electric guitar by Colin Linden -- Costner delivers the harmony vocal to boot. There are a number of solid rockers in the contemporary country vein, too: Connie Britton's and Luke Chase's swaggering "Ball and Chain" could be a single on country radio, as could Chris Carmack's stomping set-opener "What If I Was Willing?" Hayden Panettiere's "Trouble Is," a sheeny bit of contemporary country, is more in keeping with the music from the beginning of season one, though her duet with Carmack on set-closer "Can't Say No to You" is much tougher. Charles Esten steps out a with a bumping modern rockabilly number on "Playin' Tricks" (with smoking electric guitar from Linden). The only complaint here is that there isn't enough Britton (but to be fair on this point, her character spent half the season without her singing voice). As evidenced by this first volume from season two, Nashville is a series that keeps on giving, both on and off the screen. ~ Thom Jurek