Country Strong: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
By: Matt Bjorke
There’s a new country star in town and her name is Gwyneth Paltrow. Wait…She’s not a country star but she headlines the film Country Strong and stars as a down-on-her-luck star who tries to rehab her career with the help of her manager, played by Tim McGraw. Two young guns Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund round out the main cast and both have their own headlining songs amongst the 13 all new recordings for this film soundtrack. In addition to “Country Strong,” Gwyneth Paltrow has two more solo songs and a duet with Tim McGraw.
Before we get to these stars songs, we’ll check out the seven songs that are from some of country music’s biggest stars including Hank Williams, Jr., Chris Young & Patty Loveless, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack, Trace Adkins, Ronnie Dunn and Faith Hill. Of all 13 songs on this soundtrack, only Hill’s first new song since The Hits a few years back (outside of NBC Sunday Night Football recordings), may not be in the movie. The rest will be heard throughout the film and this is a very good thing as there’s not a bad track among those six songs.
Written by Dallas Davidson, Brett “Raymond” Eldredge and Rhett Akins, “Thirsty” is perhaps the most vibrant Hank Williams, Jr. has sounded in ages. It’s a country rocker as Hank’s been known to do and with a title like “Thirsty,” you can sure guess what the song is about. I think country radio might be willing to play this tune. Womack’s “Liars Lie” – written by Sally Barris, Morgane Hayes and Liz Roze – is a shuffling two stepper with sawin’ twin fiddles from Hank Singer and Larry Franklin. Fans of There’s More Where That Came From will undoubtedly enjoy this song while Ronne Dunn’s first solo effort since breaking away from Kix Brooks is a self-produced cover of Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” He doesn’t really add much to the song but his fantastic voice doesn’t detract from it either.
Trace Adkins’s “Timing Is Everything” was written by Natalie Hemby (co-writer of “White Liar”) and Troy Jones (“Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer”) and it rivals anything or is better than anything on Trace’s just-released Show Dog-Universal album. The fiddles saw through behind Trace’s baritone as he sings lyrics about how life is fleeting. Quite simply it’s a country song without nary a pop note. The duet between Chris Young and Patty Loveless is one of the most anticipated parts of this album. Written by EMI Nashville artist Troy Olsen and Marv Green, “Love Don’t Let Me Down” is cool because aside from two of the best voices joining forces, the song is actually good with a progressive, George Strait-like melody and the lyrics are just superb. Produced by James Stroud, the mandolins shine while fiddles weave in and out behind the vocals of a couple not wanting to let each other down. The previously mentioned song from Faith Hill was produced by Jay Joyce and while completely pop-leaning, it does sound great to hear one of the 90s best female vocalists, nay, vocalists back with some new tunes. Sara Evans new song also returns one of the best vocalists of the last 15 years to the airwaves and it’s an official single from the soundtrack (click here to read more about that song).
Now let’s get to those new film-centric songs from Gwyneth. The single “Country Strong” is discussed in its own review so we won’t discuss that one here other than to say that it fits right with the kind of radio ready material that country radio is fond of. It’s a solid, down the middle ‘I will survive’ ballad. The song “Shake That Thing” just doesn’t suit Gwyneth’s voice. Written by hit songwriters Mark Irwin, Chris Thompkins and Josh Kear, “Shake…” is way more Gretchen Wilson than the sweet hit title tune and it just doesn’t work for me. “Coming Home,” on the other hand, is a fantastic, orchestral and downright Oscar worthy ballad. It’s everything you’d expect a film ballad to be and I have a feeling it plays a pivotal part in the film. Written by Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges, Tom Douglas and Bob DiPiero, the song is downright epic. It’s not really ‘country’ like the other two Gwyneth solo tunes are but for my money it’s the best one of the bunch. It also doesn’t feel too much different from what her husband; Chris Martin of Coldplay might have come up with if he wrote a song for the album.
While Gwyneth acquits herself nicely on two out of three songs, the biggest surprises on the album are her co-stars Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester. Hedlund’s song “Chances Are” was written by Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Nathan Chapman and was produced by Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten. Choosing an organic, acoustic-leaning production was the right choice as Hedlund has a voice that suits country music quite well. He has a voice that recalls Charlie Robison with a slice of Kristofferson and without a doubt the best song on this album belongs to him. It would’ve fit right in with Ryan Bingham’s songs written for Crazy Heart. With an airy production style from Nathan Chapman, Meester certainly comes off sounding closely along the lines of the folksy singer/songwriters like Colbie Calliat and Sara Bareilles and the obvious comparison, Taylor Swift. Written by Steve Robson, Tammi Kidd and Gregory Becker, “Words I Couldn’t Say” is a standard, paint-by-numbers love song but at times it feels like a long lost Jessica Andrews song. Chapman, as he does with Taylor’s stuff, gives an ‘organic wall of sound’ feel to the melody and backing music behind Meester.
The album closer is “Me and Tennessee,” the duet between Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow. Like “Coming Home,” it’s an epic, film song and it’s not as good as I expected it to be but it does show off the fact that Paltrow and McGraw can blend together well. It feels like the perfect song to be used over end titles, which is apparently exactly what it will be. Soundtracks for any film typically are a collection of pure randomly chosen songs without cohesive identities. Fortunately for country music fans over the past few years, there have been great films which actors actually prove they can actually carry a tune more than just in the shower, in a car or a karaoke bar. On Country Song: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund are given strong songs and are able to more than hold their own intermixed with a who’s who in contemporary country stars.
If you prefer the silver platters, you can purchase the CD at Amazon.