Folks, let's get one thing straight. The at-times charmingly bad, humorous, or excellent soundtrack to Robert Altman's groundbreaking and influential Nashville isn't to be taken at face value throughout. There's a blizzard's chance in Tullahoma County that you'll get a proper grip of it without the context of the film itself. The film is a vivid look at the cult of celebrity and power, tracing the actions of a couple dozen characters throughout five days in the country music capital. With numerous performances by these figures that go hand in hand with the environs, the film is just as much a musical as it is a realistic slice of the American South, circa 1974. As much of the performances captured in the film are by local amateurs, the material isn't always top level. That's why it succeeds -- it's realistic. As the director himself assesses in the liner notes to the MCA Nashville reissue from 2000, "We weren't trying to write 'great' songs. We aimed to meet the spectrum of songs coming out of the Nashville scene." Spectrum is the key word here -- the quality of the material and the range of emotions within are extremely broad. Lonesome lives on the road, extramarital affairs that need to be severed, romantic longings, national pride, self-assurance -- just about any topic tackled within a typical country song is covered. Most of the songs were written by the actors with their characters in mind, which adds more of that necessary realism. The musicianship is excellent and fitting, including the work of legendary session hands like Vassar Clements, David Briggs, and Weldon Myrick. Convincing performances come from Henry Gibson, in the role of star Haven Hamilton. (Gibson is also well known as a gravity-defying Illinois Nazi in The Blues Brothers.) He cuts his lover loose in "For the Sake of the Children," giving her three reasons: Jimmy, Kathy, and sweet Lorelei ("Cause Jimmy's been wishin' that I take him fishin'/His Little League pitchin' is somethin' to see"). His "Keep A-Goin'" is a sure-fire mood lifter ("Ain't no use to sit and whine 'cause the fish ain't on your line/Bait your hook and keep a-tryin' -- keep a-goin'!"). Other excellent performances are turned in by Karen Black and Keith Carradine, whose "I'm Easy" won an Academy Award for Best Song. Nashville is a fine elixir in an age of soundtrack-before-plot movies and a hoot to boot.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman