Life is imitating art for Jay DeMarcus and Sam Palladio. The Rascal Flatts bassist made a cameo appearance on ABC's Nashville last season, making a date with Gunnar Scott (played by Palladio) for a songwriting session. The musician and actor became friends and real-life writing partners, crafting a tune together that just may end up on a future Flatts album — or on Nashville.
"He's a wonderful musician, and I love his voice," DeMarcus tells Rolling Stone Country of Palladio. "It's refreshing to know that [the actors] representing us on the show are authentic."
DeMarcus has now seen that authenticity first-hand with more than a dozen actors on the musical drama, as he produced Christmas With Nashville, an album of holiday standards and originals sung by the cast. Due in stores November 4th, the compilation includes Clare Bowen's (Scarlett O'Connor) take on "Santa Baby," Charles Esten (Deacon Claybourne) singing "Blue Christmas" and sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella (Maddie and Daphne Conrad) harmonizing on "Christmas Coming Home." (See the full track list below.)
"It comes so naturally for them; it's inbred in their DNA," DeMarcus says of 15-year-old Lennon and 10-year-old Maisy. "They are the sweetest girls in the entire world. We had so much fun together working in the studio. They would start singing, and I would just sit there and completely get lost in it."
Nashville's leading ladies, Connie Britton (Rayna Jaymes) and Hayden Panettiere (Juliette Barnes) also lend their voices to a few tracks, including a Britton-Will Chase (Luke Wheeler) duet on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The two actresses are the only ones of the bunch who rarely sing off camera, while their co-stars are frequent Grand Ole Opry performers, and some have even gone on tour. DeMarcus reasons that Britton and Panettiere simply don't give themselves enough musical credit.
"Hayden has such a natural ability; when she opens her mouth there's a gorgeous tone that comes out," he says. "Same thing for Connie. She came in and she was like, 'I’m really not a singer. I’m an actor.' But she went in the studio and just came alive…. They may not say they're singers, but they are."
When he's not on the road with Rascal Flatts, DeMarcus spends a lot of time behind a soundboard. His long list of producer credits includes albums by an eclectic group of artists, from Kix Brooks to Chicago to Jason Crabb. The Ohio native says working with the Nashville cast felt like working with similarly seasoned musicians.
"I was blown away by the consistent talent level of each actor as they came into the studio," he remembers. "I realized immediately that I was working with gifted singers, as well. They are so meticulous about their craft of acting, and they were just as meticulous about making sure the music was right."
Christmas With Nashville Track List:
1. "Santa Baby" — Clare Bowen
2. "Blue Christmas" — Charles Esten
3. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" — Jonathan Jackson
4. "White Christmas" — Hayden Panettiere
5. "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" — Connie Britton
6. "River" — Sam Palladio
7. "Baby, It’s Cold Outside" — Connie Britton and Will Chase
8. "Merry Christmas Baby" — Aubrey Peeples
9. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — Chaley Rose
10. "Christmas Coming Home" — Lennon & Maisy
11. "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" — Will Chase
12. "Celebrate Me Home" — Clare Bowen, Connie Britton, Will Chase, Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Sam Palladio, Hayden Panettiere, Aubrey Peeples, Chaley Rose, Lennon & Maisy