By Ann Powers and Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Country music was born of hard luck lives and heartbreak, with its singers as raw and roughed up as the songs. Its early singers were the stuff of legends — unashamed of humble beginnings, dogged by tragedy, uneasy with fame, often in search of redemption. The stories captured the imagination of Hollywood, with filmmakers turning them into classics — and clunkers ("Rhinestone," anyone?). It is the wail of the American heartland that appeals, and the plain-spoken lyrics make for easy plot points — "Help me make it through the night," "She's actin' single, I'm drinkin' doubles," "Take this job and shove it," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." The best scripts that emerged cut across social and economic lines, and the music was always there when the words failed. "Country Strong" is the latest to join that rich tradition, with Gwyneth Paltrow starring as a broken singer-songwriter in search of a little saving grace. The film is expanding into theaters around the country this week, so Times pop music critic Ann Powers and Times film critic Betsy Sharkey were asked to pick their four favorites from the past. It was mostly a peaceable process, except when it came to "Coal Miner's Daughter," and whether it was graciousness or grit that won the day, we'll never tell.
Scott Garfield / Sony-Screen Gems
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