‘The Best Of Me’ is a romantic drama film which was released in the UK in late 2014 and is the latest in a long line of adaptations of the literary offerings from American author Nicholas Sparks. For those unfamiliar with his work, which may be many, Sparks has penned numerous (highly successful) romantic novels and has seen many of them snapped up by Hollywood and adapted into movies. Perhaps the most well-known of these being 2004’s ‘The Notebook’, claimed by many to be the seminal ‘chick-flick’. The Louisiana setting of ‘The Best Of Me’ saw the film-makers turn to Country artists to provide songs for the official soundtrack, and a mighty impressive line-up it proved to be. Having a suspicion that this album would have passed by unnoticed upon release it seemed appropriate to draw it to the attention of UK Country fans.
The album opens with the familiar sound of Lady Antebellum and the stirring ballad ‘I Did With You’, a track which many will be familiar with by virtue of the sumptuous video the trio released to support it. A song that would fit comfortably on any of the trio’s own albums, reflecting on the wonder of the ‘love of a lifetime’, Country-pop produced to perfection. Charles, Dave & Hillary appear again on ‘Falling For You’ a mid-tempo cut which featured as one of the additional tracks on the deluxe version of their recent ‘747’ album. The big romantic themes are still at the forefront but this second Lady A selection has a little more fire in it’s belly.
Winner of the Favourite Male Country Artist at this week’s People’s Choice Awards and ever-rising star Hunter Hayes adds his input with ‘Dream Girl’. Lyrically as love-soaked as you could hope for, musically the song offers far more with its’ lazy reggae beat and Hunter’s playful vocals and guitar-picking. ‘Hold On’ is a track from a duo of acts I confess to being unfamiliar with – SHEL is a US folk band made up of four sisters, with the first letter of their names (Sarah, Hannah, Eva & Liza) making up the band’s unique name; they are joined on this poignant song by singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop who hails from Northern Ireland. A stripped down, largely acoustic tender ballad, ‘Hold On‘ proves to be one of the album’s highlights. Eva provides lead vocals for SHEL and has a gorgeously Celtic-sounding voice which pairs strongly with Dunlop’s Damien Rice-like vocals on a tune with echoes of sublime duo The Civil Wars.
Pop singer Colbie Caillat appears on piano-led ballad ‘In Love Again’, slow to gain traction the track benefits from a delightfully memorable hook to it’s emotional chorus and a strong performance from Caillat. A song that would seem to tick every box of the romantic nature of the movie it provides the musical backdrop for, it manages to stay just the right side of saccharine, proving to be just sweet enough. A leading exponent of the much-maligned Bro-Country movement Thomas Rhett proves that given the right material he can shine. Mid-tempo ‘The Way Things Go’, with it’s gutsy chorus and look at the unpredictable nature of life (& love, naturally!) is stronger than 90% of the material on Rhett’s own debut album ‘It Goes Like This’.
Husband and wife duo Thompson Square add their own personal chemistry to ‘Borrowed Time’, with the couple featured in the song longing for their relationship to continue forever. Keifer & Shawna show exactly how they won CMA Duo of the Year in 2012, with exquisite harmonies buoyed by atmospheric electric guitar and mandolin. ‘Lead Me’ is a powerhouse of a piano-ballad from Kip Moore, that instantly recognisable gravelly voice has rarely sounded better. Kip’s début album had it’s softer moments (notably the superb ‘Hey Pretty Girl’) but ‘Lead Me’ is as far removed from the likes of his ‘Somethin’ Bout A Truck’ as you can imagine, and is an absolute treat.
You can always rely on the irrepressible Kacey Musgraves to shake things up and that is precisely what the Texan does on rocking Country track ‘Love Is A Liar’. Injecting a welcome shot of energy in to proceedings and an opposing view on the virtues of love, Musgraves enhances her reputation even further on a song bursting with attitude and witty lyrics. Hugely successful Nashville songwriter and now solo artist of some repute Eric Paslay appears on ‘Rain From Heaven’, a big & bold ballad complete with lush chorus. Paslay’s self-titled album was one of the strongest Country débuts of 2014 and he sits comfortably amongst many more established acts on ‘The Best Of Me’.
David Nail is one of the finest male vocalists in Country music and his appearance on ‘All The Way’ gives fans a chance to hear that voice in full flow on a driving mid-tempo track, reminiscent of ‘Countin’ Cars’ / ‘Kiss You Tonight’ from his latest solo album. Sadly there is a slightly jarring electronic sound effect added to the drumbeat of the track from the second verse onwards but even this cannot distract from a great performance. ‘Unchanged’ is a delightfully flowing ballad, featuring an almost hypnotic gentle electric guitar riff throughout as well as sizzling solo, and comes courtesy of Texan four-piece Eli Young Band. Mike Eli is somewhat of an underrated singer in my opinion, not obviously Country but always expressive & hugely listenable, here he is given top-drawer backing by bandmates Chris, James & Jon.
Cowboy Junkies are an alt-Country group from Canada and their ‘Sweet Jane’ is easily the edgiest cut on the soundtrack, a gritty slow-paced shot of reality against the backdrop of picture-perfect romance served up on the majority of tracks here. Lead singer Margo Timmins has a suitably understated, almost resigned delivery which adds perfectly to the melancholy of the melody. The final song on the album is ‘Crossroads’ from Phoebe Hoffman, an artist who I confess I struggled to find any information on at all! Apologies to any fans of Hoffman and her music for my ignorance, ‘Crossroads’ though sends the soundtrack off on a high. Hoffman is clearly a talented singer and, driven along by acoustic strumming and very welcome steel guitar fills, this song describing a defining position we all find ourselves in during our lifetime resonates with the listener.
‘The Best Of Me’ is a film I fear I will end up seeing following its impending release on DVD, having a slight weakness for (some) films of this ilk (please do not tell anyone!), but cannot comment on the qualities of the movie adaptation itself. As for the official soundtrack album, it really is an absolute delight for fans of modern Country music. A stellar list of artists contributing with songs which, although admittedly (& inevitably) veer towards ‘slushy’ territory in the main, are not simply throwaway tracks that the likes of Kacey Musgraves or Hunter Hayes would not welcome on their respective CV’s. All of the material here would easily grace the specific albums of the talent on-board and for that reason combine to produce an enchanting collection.