Soundtrack Review: COUNTRY STRONG

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
January 12th, 2011

Rating: “Country Strong (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)”: 3/5
Rating: “Country Strong (More Music from the Motion Picture)”: 3.5/5

It will always be a precarious undertaking to take actors and to be saddled with the task of turning them into singers, especially when you are looking to have them sing country music, a genre that rarely allows for anything other than pure honesty. COUNTRY STRONG succeeds in making a country superstar out of Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Canter and highlights the true talent of newcomer Garrett Hedlund as Beau Hutton.

Surrounded by current and older country singers, there is really no place to hide when your tracks are bookended by artists like Lee Ann Womack and Hank Williams Jr. This mix of both the actors along with the veterans flows seamlessly from track to track further proving that this cast rose to the challenge of creating and singing life into their characters.

Paltrow is clearly the star of this show, just as she appears to be in the film, and two of her powerhouse songs, “Country Strong” and “Coming Home” are featured on the original soundtrack. Out of all her tracks, I was most impressed with “A Fighter” because the song not only most reflects her character, but Paltrow literally embodies the track through her singing and it gives me chills each time I hear it. And her duet with Tim McGraw, who plays her husband and manager James Canter in the film, is almost bittersweet as the two come together on “Me and Tennessee.”

Hedlund may not be known for his singing, but he more than has the chops and voice for country music. Weathered with a touch of honey, his tracks both in and outside of the film were by far my favorites. Admittedly, any style of music delivered with a smile like Hedlund’s would warm even a city girl’s heart like mine, but I think both true and new country fans alike would be impressed with the tracks Hedlund turns in here.

Leighton Meester, as starry-eyed Chiles Stanton, ends up as a bit of a weak link next to Paltrow and Hedlund. The style of country music Stanton sings is a bit more pop and although some of the more catchy tracks, they also lack the heart that run through Paltrow and Hedlund’s tracks. Much like her character in the film, she comes to life when paired with Hedlund and their duet, “Give In To Me,” tones down the show and turns up the simple beauty of Meester’s voice.

When I began looking over the track listing for the “Country Strong (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” I was disappointed to see some of my favorite songs from the film such as “Give In To Me” and “Timing Is Everything” were sung by outside artists rather than the actors in the film. The duet between Meester and Hedlund was one of my favorite moments and I was let down to see it not only sung by someone else, but as a solo rather than a duet. Faith Hill’s version of the song is lovely, but it did not pact the same impact as the original. The same can be said for Trace Adkins’ version of “Timing Is Everything,” a well-sung song, but it again takes away the emotional ties established through the film.

Luckily the filmmakers must have sensed this pending discontent as a second album, “Country Strong (More Music from the Motion Picture),” is also available and includes these missed tracks. Tracks from artists such as Hayes Carll (“Take Me Away”) and Nikki Williams (“Fly Again”) are also mixed in here, but this collection is really a showcase of the film’s cast. From Paltrow’s “A Fighter” to Meester’s “Summer Girl” to Hedlund’s “Hard Out Here” (featuring one of my favorite lyrics, “You ain’t a poet / Just a drunk with a pen”), you can find them all here. And I dare you not to feel your heartstrings tug when listening to the Paltrow’s track “Travis” as pulled straight from the film.

If you are looking for the songs you fell in love with in the film, I would point you in the direction of “Country Strong (More Music from the Motion Picture),” which is filled to the brim with Hedlund, Paltrow, and Meester’s tracks. If you prefer a touch of the film’s music along with better-known country artists, the original soundtrack should suit your fancy. Both should satisfy country fans and fans of the film alike, but I felt the second collection not only captured the feeling of the film, it also turned in some damn fine music and to that I tip my hat.

These soundtracks are available through RCA Records Label Nashville.

"Country Strong (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)":

1. “Country Strong” – Gwyneth Paltrow
2. “Love Don’t Let Me Down” – Chris Young & Patty Loveless
3. “A Little Bit Stronger” – Sara Evans
4. “Chances Are” – Garrett Hedlund
5. “Liars Lie” – Lee Ann Womack
6. “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” – Ronnie Dunn
7. “Shake That Thing” – Gwyneth Paltrow
8. “Thirsty” – Hank Williams Jr.
9. “Give In To Me” – Faith Hill
10. “Timing Is Everything” – Trace Adkins
11. “Words I Couldn’t Say” – Leighton Meester
12. “Coming Home” – Gwyneth Paltrow
13. “Me and Tennessee” – Gwyneth Paltrow & Time McGraw

"Country Strong (More Music from the Motion Picture)":

1. “Silver Wings” – Garrett Hedlund
2. “A Little Bit Stronger” – Leighton Meester
3. “A Fighter” – Gwyneth Paltrow
4. “Hard Out Here” – Garrett Hedlund
5. “Summer Girl” – Leighton Meester
6. “Keep Me Hangin’ On” – Jypsi
7. “Take Me Away” – Hayes Carli
8. “Kissin’ In Cars” – Jesse Lee
9. “Turn Loose the Horses” – Garrett Hedlund
10. “Travis” – Gwyneth Paltrow
11. “Fly Again” – Nikki Williams
12. “Give In To Me” – Garrett Hedlund & Leighton Meester
13. “Hide Me Babe” – Garrett Hedlund
14. “Timing Is Everything” – Garrett Hedlund

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