Jul 232013

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

One of the greatest American movies, Nashville uses the microcosm of Music City to capture the country’s zeitgeist like it had never been captured before. With an ensemble of twenty-four characters and a running time over two and a half hours, Nashville‘s scope is enormous, but necessary; five days in a post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, pre-Bicentennial nation makes for a lot of story. It also makes for a lot of songs; more than an hour of the movie consists of music, most of it written by the movie stars themselves. Nashvillagers didn’t take too kindly to the movie or the songs, but they both had and have a healthy cult following, especially among alt-country singers – one of whom decided to make something more from them.

Carolyn Mark, an alt-country singer from British Columbia, was a huge devotee of Altman’s movie; having no cable TV, little money, and only a few videotapes led to her watching it over 80 times. She put on a stage version of the film with a few of her friends; it was such a hit that she went a step further and recorded an entire tribute album. It helped that her friends included some of the bigger names in Canada’s alt-country scene, including Neko Case and Carl “A.C.” Newman of the New Pornographers. It hurt that she was way out in Victoria, BC, and had to wait for her musician friends to come play a show in town before she could dragoon them into taking their place behind the microphone; the album took over a year to finish. The result? In allmusic.com’s words, “Finally, a tribute album that works.” Here are five reasons why.

Carl Newman – Memphis (Karen Black cover)

Karen Black plays Connie White, a sort of outsider in Nashville, who substitutes for the beloved Barbara Jean at the Grand Old Opry. Her first song is “Memphis,” which Black wrote and sang at her audition. Carl Newman gives the song a little something extra (and not just a lisp).

Neko Case – Rolling Stone (Karen Black cover)

Another Black original, “Rolling Stone” becomes something else again in Neko Case’s hands – and why wouldn’t it? Like her bandmate Newman, her musical talents are far beyond those of most (if not all) movie stars, and you can hear what happens when that talent meets a solid song and boosts it up into a whole different world.

Kelly Hogan – Dues (Ronee Blakley cover)

“Dues” is one of the high musical points of the film, a quality song with a truly affecting performance by Ronee Blakley (making her acting debut). “I wanted Kelly to sing ‘Dues’ from the beginning — even though it’s my favorite song,” said Mark in an interview, “because I knew she could nail it.” That she does, and if her version doesn’t eclipse Blakley’s, it casts quite a shadow of its own.

Sylvia Kenny – Since You’ve Gone (Gary Busey cover)

Gary Busey was cast for Nashville, but chose to leave the project for another; before he left, though, he composed a song that was too good to leave out of the movie. “Since You’ve Gone” is performed by Bill, Tom & Mary (Allan Nicholls, Keith Carradine, & Cristina Raines) in the film; on the tribute album, it gets a very faithful rendition from Sylvia Kenny, right down to her clearing her throat at the exact moment Cristina Raines did.

Tolan McNeil – I’m Easy (Keith Carradine cover)

The one Academy Award Nashville won was for Best Original Song, “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine. He wrote it as a way of pitching woo to his “Hair” costar Shelley Plimpton (it worked; Martha Plimpton is their daughter); when he sings it in the film, at least four women believe it’s directed at them – only one of them, Lily Tomlin, is right to think so, and the song’s effect on her is devastating. Tolan McNeil may not be the cad that Carradine’s character was, but his version of the song would very likely pull at the heartstrings of that special someone who just might be in the audience tonight.

This tribute can be found on iTunes and Amazon; the original can be found on Amazon as a CD. If you haven’t seen the movie, DO. Also, check out The Nashville Chronicles, the definitive history of the making of the movie.

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  One Response to “Cover Classics: A Tribute to Robert Altman’s Nashville”

Comments (1)
  1. Thanks for this post. The movie has always been one of my favorites. When I noticed (on IMDB) Gary Busey’s name as a music contributor, with no further info, I was pleased to find the information here.

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