It All Begins with a Song takes place in Nashville, Tennessee, and takes us into the creative energy that lives there, as this new music documentary looks beneath the famous voices of those big songs that you’ve definitely heard. You see, this time around, they’re interviewing and speaking to the people behind-the-scenes, the songwriters who’ve written and co-created endless hit singles. This is all about listening to the creators, the storytellers, and the ridiculously talented souls behind the songs you probably know and love with all your being.
Much like 20 Feet from Stardom, the documentary that focused in on the backing vocal talents that can make or break some artists, the people you hear from in “Chusy” Haney-Jardine‘s documentary have so many stories to tell, from how the songs were created, right through to where they went with them, who took them on and also what they mean, beneath the success.
Opening with an interview with the legendary Rodney Crowell, who I had the pleasure of seeing in Belfast back in 2008, he talks about the very nature of songwriting itself from the off. He was friends with Johnny Cash (and was even married to his daughter Rosanne), who he wrote songs for, as well as the likes of Bob Seger and Keith Urban. Crowell is a deft storyteller, whose deep understanding of the country genre gets into what a great song needs to succeed. Later on he also talks about Kris Kristofferson, who I was also honoured to watch at Black Deer Festival last summer, and how he changed modern songwriting. It’s a great way to start, and it sets us up for an endless line of superbly talented souls, who really capture you with every shared discussion.
Without listing everyone involved, because frankly that would be the whole review, here’s just a few people who are included and who they have written songs for, or/and with, in brackets: Phil Vassar (Tim McGraw); David Hodges (Celine Dion, Evanescence); Brett James (Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson Carrie Underwood); Brandy Clark (Sheryl Crow); Victoria Shaw (Garth Brooks, Christina Aguilera); Liz Rose (Taylor Swift, Jewel, Kylie); Claude Kelly (Bruno Mars); Caitlyn Smith (John Legend, Megan Trainor); Busbee (Pink, Gwen Stefani) and John Hiatt (Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Willie Nelson) – I mention these specific people because I was most captured by them but all participating are deeply insightful. I also related a lot to The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, when she was talking about perpetual motion, which is also my favourite place to write. When she spoke about the speed of how fast your brain moves, and how maybe physically moving in a car or on a train helps, that made a lot of sense to me and it wasn’t something I’d heard discussed before.
In truth, It All Begins with a Song is a real individual experience and once to really immerse in. Listen to stories of the beginnings of the scene, tales about the Nashville antennae and music radio, the legendary Grand ole Opry (which recently also reminded me of the Jessie Buckley-starring Wild Rose), Three Chords and the Truth, The Bluebird Cafe, the vibe and energy in the city itself and how everyone tries to support each other, at some time or another, if they want to be supported, that is. Obviously, there’s also honest insight about how everyone who arrives is trying to do the same thing, so be prepared to fight, but also how to take that on and go through the rejection, as it can help fuel the creative spark you need to succeed.
Although this film is around the beginnings of country music, and all its connections, this unquestionably also takes you into the world of Americana, folk, rock, pop and beyond. It’s more than fair to make the assumption there’s only one original songwriting capital in the world, and it is Nashville. If you’re into your music in any form, It All Begins with a Song is fascinating we learn about the real people who write these huge tunes, and who love their lives doing it. They may be just out of the main stage spotlight, but they always there in some form. Glorious.