There's thirteen hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville – at least that's what Steve Earle and the Lovin' Spoonful said. Nashville is a music mecca, where hopefuls flock and fight for notoriety in a city that puts country crooners on the map (and the radio.) On television, Nashville delivers the lifeblood of its subject and then some: it's a potent mix of concert and drama, with colorful accents and larger-than-life personalities to boot. And its music has been converting disinterested channel surfers since day one: Tracks for the first season were produced by T Bone Burnett, whose O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack won five Grammys and who more recently produced the Inside Llewyn Davis LP. He's since left the show, but Season Two's transition to Buddy Miller as has been relatively seamless. These 22 tracks represent the program's best performances to date. –Kiran Herbert
Our first glimpse of Nashville came via this minute-long teaser, though what it offers still resonantes well into Season Two. Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) is an Alabama girl who left the trailer park to become a country starlet, with the voice, looks and candy-coated hits to match. She's a heartbreaker and a moneymaker, but she's trouble, too. She has a penchant for short dresses and handsome men, and in line with the white trash trope, a junkie for a mother. "Take the money and run" is sound advice, but it's also sly foreshadowing.
Juliette's megahits are just one side of Nashville – the other profiles aspiring songwriters and showcases the country's fondness for artful acoustic numbers. Made famous by the Civil Wars, this version of "If I Didn't Know Better" is all about the chemistry between wallflowers Scarlett O' Connor (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio). Sparks fly even though Scarlett has a boyfriend, Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), an attractive musician in his own right.
Juliette drives Deacon (Charles Esten) to a lake to "finish 'rattin' that song," and though "Undermine" is on her agenda, so is stealing him from his former lover (and current employer), reigning country queen Rayna Jaymes (the fabulous Connie Britton). It kind of works, in that Deacon joins Juliette on tour, but his love for Rayna isn't just some fling. Nonetheless, this track is our first hint that Juliette's more than just some flash-in-the-pan writing pop songs for pre-teens.
Juliette is soon writing hits so big that even Rayna's daughters covered one for a talent show. The girls, played by real life sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella, deliver a version that's better than Panettiere's, which was a real-world Billboard hit in its own right. These two definitely inherited their mother's talent, and in the case of the older Maddie, her father's too (Deacon is Maddie's dad, which explains the endless drama between him and Rayna.)
Rayna may be a legacy, but her album sales are lagging. Her label's remedy? A joint tour with Juliette. Though there's little love lost, the two put their differences aside to write the chart-topping "Wrong Song." Rayna's relationship with husband Teddy is on the rocks, and her chemistry with bad-boy guitarist Liam (Michiel Huisman) is pushing Juliette into the background. Though Deacon is technically on tour with Juliette, he's obviously there to stay close to Rayna. At this point, petty arguments, jealousy and not-so-harmless flirting take center stage, and "Wrong Song" showcases how, though drama can be put aside for a concert, stage dynamics still make for great analyzing.
We've had plenty of Scarlett-Gunnar duets up to this point in the show (see "I Will Fall" and "Fade Into You" for other examples of their inevitable get-together), but "Love's Ring of Fire" is the first glimpse of Scarlett the solo star. She's shed her cheating boyfriend Avery, and copious tequila shots have given her the confidence to perform (and made her all the more appealing to Gunnar). Though Johnny Cash made this song a hit, Scarlett's playful rendition is a reminder that it was Anita Carter who first recorded it, and her sister June who co-wrote it.
Juliette's engaged! And if that seems like it came out of nowhere, well, it did. The union doesn't last long, but at least we have this clip of her changing everything about herself to impress her beau's folks. Luckily, she comes to her senses, but not before thoroughly messing with this poor jock's family, who – to their credit – have a pretty good idea about who she really is. "For Your Glory" is also deeply emblematic of country music, which is rooted in gospel tunes and religious hymns.
By now, Rayna has decided to start her own label, and having already signed Scarlett, she's looking for male talent. Enter Will Lexington (Chris Carmack), a singer who projects heartbreak but is just an insecure, in-the-closet cowboy looking to bank on his performing chops. This clip shows he's destined for stardom. But it seems inevitable that he'll be outed along the way. . .
Rayna performs this previously unrecorded Lucinda Williams tune alongside accidental racist Brad Paisley. (It was produced by Black Key's frontman Dan Auerbach.) Buddy Miller, who co-produced the show's original music under T Bone Burnett, told Rolling Stone last October that they wanted a "wild producer doing a track" (sounds like Liam). It's a telling indicator of Rayna's boy problems – just look at the glances she keeps throwing Deacon's way.
This song concludes Season One and commemorates the suicide of Juliette's mother, who killed herself after shooting her daughter's bribing lover. Her death was almost as tragic as Deacon's relapse, a tease of the alcoholic Rayna deemed unfit to be a father years before. (Appropriately, his drinking began the moment he found out Maddie was his child.) This track – and the first season – ends with the car crash that leaves Deacon in jail and Rayna in a coma.
This is Avery's first appearance on this list, mostly because he was an asshole with a big ego prior to the Season Two premiere. Not only does this tune prove he has talent, but it showcases the new Avery, humbled by a breakup and a record deal come and gone. This song particularly resonates with Scarlett, who is single for the first time since Nashville began, having ended things with Gunnar before they ever got started.
Gunnar's first appearance as a solo artist is a tribute to his "biggest heartbreak," and guess what – it's not Scarlett. It's an ode to his deceased brother, an outlaw in the vein of Steve Earle who was beaten to death in an alley. Newcomer Zoey (Chaley Rose) may be Scarlet's bestie, but she's showing a little too much interest in her ex.
Nashville native Caitlin Rose wrote this track, which Scarlett performs for the suits at Rayna's label. It's a power move meant to establish her as the next big thing (which doesn't require a stretch of the imagination). Rayna, however, is not only pissed that the new president stole Will from her fledgling startup, but she's trying to hide that she still can't sing, too.
Finally, Zoey is ready to grace us with her voice. "Wayfaring Stranger" is an old, 19th-century spiritual that's been recorded by Johnny Cash, Jack White and Emmylou Harris. Though it's a sad song that's much longer than this version, it's a sweet a cappella throwback amid all the heavy production in Music City.
Speaking of production, here's Juliette's million-dollar serenade for a wealthy couple renewing their vows. The blonde guy is the groom, though he's just as much trouble as Juliette. Once he figures out that Avery isn't her boyfriend, he's quick to seduce the drunken superstar.
What a sweet, sisterly Motown moment. Unfortunately, this adorable display can only mean disastrous things to come for these friends.
And finally, the inevitable: Avery leaves Zoey and Sam alone and they go at it. This just goes to show that while Nashville gains national recognition, it's still a small town where everyone's slept with everybody else.
The biggest name in country, Luke Wheeler (Will Chase), throws a benefit concert, and after Rayna invites Juliette to join the Grand Ole Opry, Luke asks her to sing a tune. Hard-pressed to back out on live TV, Rayna finds her voice again in this truly touching moment.
Scarlett seems to know things aren't right all over "This Town," and as her and Deacon sing away, other characters wake up to the realization that something's amiss in their glamorous home.
Juliette's upset that everyone isn't supportive of her Opry spot. This performance reminds viewers how talented she is, and if people aren't taking her seriously, they better – and quick. Unless her actions compromise her fan base. . .
Nashville is a drama where everyone falls in love. Avery is banking on a fresh start with Scarlett; Zoey is hoping Scarlet falls back into Avery's arms so she can go at it with Gunnar; Deacon is in a grounded relationship too good to be true; and Juliette is risking it all for the unhappy millionaire. And after this stellar performance, Scarlet secures herself a spot on Luke Wheeler's tour. The only catch? His new crush Rayna has to visit. It's safe to say that whatever emotional upheavals the rest of Season Two has in store, the music will always remain center stage.