Gwyneth Paltrow's Country Music Debut Divides Nashville

On Wednesday night, Gwyneth Paltrow makes her country music debut at the CMA Awards.

The star of the forthcoming Country Strong (out Dec. 22), she sings no less than four songs on the movie’s soundtrack, released by RCA Nashville on Oct. 26, which was executive produced by Tim McGraw and features contributions by some of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, in demand session players and even Taylor Swift’s producer, Nathan Chapman, who won the album of the year Grammy for 2008’s Fearless.

In fact, as tempting as it might be to dismiss the project altogether as a hokey after-thought to last year’s Oscar-winning Crazy Heart, the makers of the film and the music went to great lengths to establish credibility, not just in enlisting Music City’s big guns, but by bringing the production to Nashville and hiring locally. A set source tells THR that even Paltrow’s husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, was involved in shaping some of the music, particularly the songs his wife was singing on (Martin, however, is not credited on the album).

But good will can only take you so far, and as news of Paltrow’s CMA performance made the rounds, plenty of Nashville insiders greeted it with a roll of the eyes. “There’s definitely skepticism around town,” says one high-level label exec. “The feeling is that she’s taking a slot that would otherwise go to one of our acts – be it a new artist or someone who’s actually nominated – just so ABC can garner some ratings.”

There’s no doubt Paltrow is a major draw for a TV audience (she also appears on Fox’s Glee next week singing a clean version of Cee-Lo’s hit “F--- You”), but the question remains: can she sing? One musician who worked on Country Strong answers with an unequivocal yes. “She has a really good voice,” says guitarist and singer-songwriter Neal Casal, who plays a member of Paltrow’s movie band and had a hand in showing her how to properly strum a guitar (see him in the video for the title track below). “I think people will be really surprised.”

We’ll all find out soon enough. The CMAs air Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC.