David Nail is one of those artists that flies under the radar a lot in Nashville, never really selling out to trends, always producing decent or solid albums–in short, he’s one of the artists out there proving pop country doesn’t always equal bad music. I’ve always been impressed with Nail and thought he had a lot of potential, particularly on his songs “The Sound of a Million Dreams” and “Turning Home.” That all shines through in his fourth album, Fighter, his best album to date and definitely what I look for in good pop country.
The album opens with “Good at Tonight,” an upbeat anthem featuring Brothers Osborne that would be a great second single choice. I am surprised by how much I enjoy this song because it’s similar to a lot of songs out there, speaking about living life to its fullest and seizing the moment. “I ain’t much for the morning but I’ve always been good at tonight.” The production makes this enjoyable–it features accordion and is something I can call pop country, as opposed to similar, overproduced straight pop songs. “Night’s on Fire,” the first single follows–this is the typical song about hooking up by a river. However, this one is not terrible, as it has really nice descriptions and focuses on the experience and the surroundings rather than just having sex. I didn’t review it when it came out because it’s just there; it’s mediocre and filler, but it does serve the purpose of proving there is a better way to portray this overdone story. “ease Your Pain” is about a man saying he can be there for a woman and well, ease her pain; I would probably enjoy this more if it didn’t compare love to a drug because I am personally sick of that metaphor. Still, it’s a solid pop country song.
The first truly amazing moment on the album is “Home.” This is a collaboration with Lori McKenna featuring excellent piano and acoustic guitar. It speaks of home in a bittersweet way, about leaving and coming back, etc. David Nail’s strength is his voice, and it really shines on songs like this. Also, this makes me look forward to Lori McKenna’s album tomorrow! Next is “Lie With Me,” a song about a man asking a woman to “lie” with him and pretend she is staying, even though he knows she is about to leave. This song could have been better, but it does suffer from some overproduction, especially in some very distracting cymbals. Next is “I Won’t Let You Go,” another excellent collaboration, this time with Vince Gill. Vince Gill is a great choice; both Vince and David Nail have strikingly strong, tenor voices, neither really traditionally country but both undeniable in talent and sincerity. This song is about the relationship between a man and his wife; “I know that this is hard to do, you loving me, me loving you, so long since we have felt brand-new, but I won’t let you go.” The production works well in this one and allows their voices to shine.
“fighter,” the album’s title track, is next. This is admiring a woman who stays beside him through struggles; it doesn’t stand out on the first listen, but it will on the second. There is also a soft fiddle on this track that really adds to it. “Babies” feels very personal to Nail and is about how he lived his life as a thrill seeker, but now “I’ve found a better kind of crazy now that I got babies.” It’s a refreshing moment of honesty that mainstream country really needs. “Got me Gone” is similar to “Night’s on Fire”–it’s not a terrible song, but it doesn’t really add anything to the album and could have been left off it. In fact, it probably does less than “night’s on Fire,” because that made a decent single choice, and this, while still being about a woman who turns him on, has really bland and boring production that probably wouldn’t serve that purpose either. “Champagne Promise” is the moment where a good song is ruined by production; this is a good pop song but is not country at all. Here, the narrator has realized that the woman will be nothing more than a “champagne promise,” a one-night stand. It’s really a pretty good song, but the production is just completely wrong. The album concludes with “Old Man’s Symphony,” an absolutely brilliant track featuring Bear and Bo Rinehart of Christian band Needtobreathe. This is an autobiographical song about David Nail’s father, a man who “plays the piano, any song you wanna hear.” Nail sings about living in his shadow and moving to Nashville, despite the whole town saying “I could never make it here if my dad never did. Guess there is a part of me that still agrees with them.” If you only pick one song to listen to from this album, please make it this one.
Overall, this is a really solid album from David Nail. His voice really stands out, and the collaborations are excellent. There are some production issues, and a couple songs could have been scrapped, but the songwriting is brilliant in some places, and at its worst, is forgettable. Even the radio-friendly filler from David Nail is better than most similar stuff from mainstream country, and the album can, for the majority, be called pop country and not straight pop. For the most part, David Nail has delivered us a nice example of good pop country music.