Country Music

Notes on Nashville: The Finer Points of Sex and "Songwriting"

There's a saying in the music business that you have your whole life to make your first album, and a few months to make your next one. The second episode of a new TV show isn't quite the same thing (production schedule, for one), but it is just as useful for potential fans to decide whether or not they'll be signing on for the long haul. Anyone can get lucky once.

ABC's Nashville is still feeling its way around, but I liked what I saw enough that I'll be back. Since the network has been touting the show as "Wednesday's No. 1 new drama," I take that to mean ratings for last week's premiere weren't quite everything ABC was hoping for. Is there another new drama on Wednesday? (Note: The Nashville Business Journal reports that Wednesday's ratings were down 26 percent from last week; I hope it can hang on an entire season.)

But rooting for the underdog is a country-music tradition almost as old as the Carter Family, so here we go.

The episode, "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You" (a Hank Williams song that is sadly never heard), opens with our heroine Reyna James, the seasoned diva who loves her new album exactly as much as her record label and country radio do not, literally stuck in traffic because her younger rival Juliette Barnes is filming a video for her tween-friendly new single.

The ingenue is cavorting on a statue in downtown Nashville with a bunch of models in red tank tops and Daisy Dukes, in a scene exactly as awful as it sounds. The director feels the same way and says so; Juliette wants him fired when she overhears.

The bulk of the episode concerns the repercussions of two offers Juliette made Reyna's guitarist/bandleader/old flame Deacon in the premiere: To write a song with her, and to leave Reyna to come out on tour. Deacon is as loyal to Reyna as he is still very much in love with her, and now committed to an "intimate" tour of just the two of them since last week Reyna shot down their mutual record label's idea of "co-headlining" an outing with Juliet toot sweet.

Juliet makes it almost impossible for Deacon to resist, though, spiriting him away from the rehearsal studio in her vintage pickup to an idyllic piece of land she says Tammy Wynette used to own. She wants to get started canoodling right away, but he holds off. "This is not how songs get written," he says.

"It's what songs get written about," she replies.

She's not wrong, and in fact the theme of songwriting as sexual sublimation concerns most of Deacon and Reyna's dialogue in the episode as well. After much bickering -- about among other things, the 1938 Martin guitar of his and Juliet's mutual co-write Juliet sends Deacon as a gift -- Reyna furtively slips into the Bluebird late in the episode to sit in at Deacon's regular gig, which she hasn't done in some time.

Their hushed and haunting duet, a mature ballad about denial and surrender, is easily the best original song in the episode and Connie Britton's best performance in the series thus far. (Juliet, who showed up too, gets completely schooled and looks like she knows it.)

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray