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'Nashville: On the Record' gives hope for ABC show's third season

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"Nashville: On the Record"

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The ABC-TV jury’s still out as to whether Nashville gets a third season, so if nothing else, last Wednesday night’s special “Nashville: On the Record” concert performance episode proved a brilliant ploy in persuading whatever network powers that be that the show should continue, if for no other reason than that it offers far and away the best music coming out of Nashville today.

Indeed, the actors who act as singers on the show are so far superior musically than any of the actual country artists topping the charts that cancelling Nashville would be a huge loss to those who still value what great mainstream country music can be, and so rarely is anymore.

Of course, this is due largely to the songwriters enlisted by the show’s producers, not to mention its executive producer Buddy Miller. “Nashville: On the Record” rightly gave plenty of room to Miller, who backed all the performers as a guitarist in the house band at the Ryman Auditorium, and led conversations with songwriters and performers taped at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café songwriters hangout (and frequent Nashville setting).

One such sit-down found Miller and cast members Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen—in reality, a Brit and Aussie respectively—looking back at their “magical” initial meeting, at which they recorded “If I Didn’t Know Better”--the first time Bowen had sung into a microphone. The duo’s beautiful Ryman performance of the somber ballad thankfully lacked the too-busy editing of the mid-tempo opener “It’s On Tonight,” which was perfectly executed by Charles Esten, Chris Carmack and Will Chase, but threatened to turn On The Record into an ordinary country music awards show.

Also unlike those award shows, there was nothing forced or vulgar here: The Esten-Bowen duet on “This Town” was straightforward and natural, with no clowning or pretense of big star/show spectacle.

Bowen, actually, was the big surprise of the night. She’s the weakest character on the show, but at the Ryman she was simply stunning on “Black Roses,” her Top 20 country hit from the show this year, which she sang to stark piano accompaniment from its writer Lucy Schwartz. But even then, Bowen had to take second to Hayden Panettiere, whose “First-ever primetime concert performance!” more than lived up to the hype.

On Nashville, Panettiere steals every scene she’s in. After admitting her nervousness to “Nothing in This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again” songwriters Sarah Buxton and Kate York—who flanked her on the Ryman stage—she proceeded to blow everyone away with her delivery of their great torch ballad, then rocked out on “Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet.”

All that was missing was Panettiere’s Nashville foil Connie Britton, who provided a taped intro to a preview of the forthcoming season finale, which looks to be soapier than ever. No matter, "Nashville: On The Record" ended with the rest of the singing cast joining Esten, Aubrey Peeples and songwriters Ashley Monroe and Sarah Siskind on the Monroe-Siskind song “A Life That’s Good,” an appropriate low-key closer to a program focusing on music that’s tasteful first.

With the announcement that The Music of NASHVILLE Season 2, Volume 2 will be released digitally next Tuesday, it would seem that a Nashville Season 3 is really pretty much a done deal—and cause for celebration.

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