Tag Archives: Vince Gill

Collaborative Spotlight: Glen Campbell–Adios

Now for something I’ve wanted to do all year but couldn’t bring myself to: spotlighting Glen campbell’s final album. I had listened to a couple songs before now, but to try and listen to the whole thing was just too sad for a Glen fan like me. But I wanted to honor him with this and made it my goal to do before the end of 2017. I thought I’d enlist another Glen fan to help honor him as well, so I got Zack of The Musical Divide to join me in sharing his thoughts about Campbell’s last album. Neither of us wanted this to be a review, just a way to honor our friend.

Megan: So what we have here is mostly–actually I thought until I heard this that it was all–cover songs, but they’re songs that one, meant something to Glen, as they were supposedly songs he gravitated toward when he was just sitting around with his family picking his guitar, and two, a lot of them also have undertones running through them that sort of explain what’s going on for him at the time.

Zack: “I think overall that yes, Adios is mostly a covers album full of the few songs Glen was still able to play. However, the way that the majority of the tracks speak to deeper levels given his condition is chilling. I think overall it’s amazing how great and passionate he still sounded vocally, and even the instrumentation is often on point. I enjoyed the soft touches of piano on “Just Like Always” and “Postcard From Paris”, and the crisp fiddle on “Arkansas Farmboy” was a treat for the ears.

Zack: I love the rollicking banjo on the opener, “Everybody’s ‘talkin’.” I think one thing you notice with this album is that they aren’t just cover songs. They’re sort of relatable to what was his situation at the time. For example, he says everybody’s talking at him, and he can’t hear a word they’re saying. With Alzheimer’s, him “not hearing” could be him not comprehending or remembering what was being said. A joyous opener on an instrumental standpoint, but a somber way to open it all.

Megan: I noticed all that too, and as we’ve mentioned, it will sort of continue to be a theme throughout this record, lingering in the background to add a touch of sadness to the whole thing. I also am amazed by how surprisingly good his voice is.

Zack: I agree regarding him being really solid vocally all throughout this album. With the next track, “Just Like Always”, he’s recalling a special night he had with his lover, and with the soft piano bolstering it, it’s meant to be seen more as somber I think for this version. After all, we again get a line such as “Maybe someday I will forget”, and that can’t be a coincidence. Of course, there’s enough ambiguity in the writing to imply that even if he does forget that night and even if his lover in question moves on, their love will still last forever. There’s a lot of subtext here. Really solid, touching, and honestly hard to listen to so far. It’s beautiful.

Megan: Speaking of hard to listen to, enter “Funny How Time Slips Away.” It also obviously reflects what’s going on with Glen, and in that light, it’s got more meaning than the original intent of the song. He and Willie Nelson should have done more stuff together, that pair really works.

Zack: Considering this is similar thematically to Just Like Always, I see this more as a counter moment of levity considering how heavy the album starts. Considering he’s doing it with Willie, it feels just like two old buddies dusting off one of the few songs people will know is a cover right from the get go. I mean, there’s at least some humor as the narrator calls out his ex for saying she’ll love her new beau forever when that’s the same thing she told him originally. Like I said, I see it merely as a counter to the darkness so far, and it’s needed.

Megan: I’ve never heard “Arkansas Farm Boy” either. This is a more lighthearted song too, and one of the few without as much of the sad undertones and double meanings. I need to find the original of this, this is a really great song. Also love the fiddle.

Zack: Oh, this is actually an original tune. I like how he recalls his childhood here. Sure, it was tough, but at the same time he remembers everything very fondly, especially since it’s when he learned to play music. At the same time, we have allusions to his aging self again as he states he’d give anything to go back again. It rings a hell of a lot more louder than say, someone on the radio wanting to be twenty again just so they can get drunk every weekend…

Megan: I also enjoy “Am I All Alone”. It goes in with the theme of songs reflecting his state of mind. I Actually would like to hear more Vince Gill if I’m honest.

Zack: Ha, I’d like to hear more of Vince Gill as well, but at least it isn’t another “Sober Saturday Night” moment.

Megan: They talked about having to give this to Glen line by line in a lot of places, and it speaks to the fact that he is a ridiculous vocalist that it’s all so connected emotionally, like in “It Won’t Bring Her Back” and later in “She Thinks I Still Care.” “It Won’t Bring Her Back” is the highlight of the album for me so far.

Zack: Really? I actually didn’t know that. Everything blends together so well that I would have never guessed. Unfortunately it makes sense, but the fact that you can hardly even tell is stunning. Anyway, moving on to “It Won’t Bring Her Back”, the advice from a friend to another to let go of a past lover on “It Won’t Bring Her Back” is reminiscent of “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” in a way. Unfortunately we do lose people whether it be through breakups, them moving away, and deaths among scenarios. There is a time for grieving, but what’s most important is that we move on knowing we’ll always have those memories to go back to in our time of need, at least for now.

Zack: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is another moment of levity akin to “Funny How Time Slips Away” only much more upbeat. It’s amazing how much charisma Glen still had at this point.

Megan: Everybody and their mother has covered that song, and yet it’s still great. I second your thoughts on that charisma thing. Like I said, it’s amazing how invested he is emotionally in all these songs if it had to be done line by line a lot. His family and his producer said that they picked songs he always picked up his guitar and sang because he would know them easier. They said he knew some of it, but a lot of days, they had to give it to him line by line so he could remember. Given that, it’s a testament to his talent that he can interpret all these songs so well.

Zack: That honestly just made listening to this a lot tougher. Especially now that we’ve gotten to my personal favorite here, “Postcard From Paris”. I love that his family provides harmony on this one. It’s easily my favorite track here. The imagery that centers around him traveling around the world hoping to find himself is an interesting spin, and the fact that in the end, he can’t do it without his friend (assuming it’s his lover) is touching. In a way the traveling could even be seen as a metaphor for him traveling somewhere else in his mind, and the fact that his family sings “I wish you were here”…damn it, this piano ballad nearly made me cry.

Megan: I agree, it’s a truly lovely song with another story of missing someone with undertones of what he is going through as it talks about things like the shadows falling all around. There is some really great piano supporting this one as well. Although, it’s good we have the next song, “A Thing Called Love” to lighten the mood. The song will just put a smile on your face after that incredibly heartbreaking moment. Very well-placed and correct, asserting that love can bring down even the strongest and most jaded of us all.

Zack: I agree, it’s another moment of levity, but I still think there’s something more to this. After all, it essentially echoes what Just Like Always did which is show how love can prevail over disease, death, or really anything. It’s the one thing that will remain after we’re gone, mentally or physically.

Megan: Really excellent point there.

Zack: Thank you! Or rather, thank Glen.

Megan: And now we’re at the closer, “Adios”. “I miss the blood red sunset, but I’ll miss you the most.” Yeah, that sums up this whole album. It’s a depressing goodbye song, but also it’s reflective and not as obviously about death, so it leaves you sad but not devastated. There are a lot of depressing moments here, but this album is kind of comforting as well.

Zack: Yes, “Adios” is obviously a somber closer, but I enjoy the ambiguity in the writing. Jimmy Webb has a way of saying a lot with very few words, and this is an example. It’s a touching sort of “goodbye” song that sure, is meant to signal a breakup more than anything, but that doesn’t mean the sentiment on this particular album doesn’t ring louder than that. Overall, this is the type of album that’s hard to talk about in so many ways. The many covers here take on new meanings in the context of this album, and knowing what you said about him having to do most of this line by line…it’s just heartbreaking really. Still, the finished product which is now the official last Glen Campbell album is a treasure.

Megan: Yeah, this was hard to listen to and hard to talk about, but in a way, it’s also a comforting listen and a bit of a snapshot into what Glen was going through when he recorded this. Enjoyed sharing his final album with you, and thank you, Glen, for a lifetime and legacy of music.

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Album Review: Jason Eady (self-titled)

Rating: 9/10

If there is one album I regret not being able to discuss from this platform, it is Jason Eady’s 2014 masterpiece Daylight and Dark. That year, everyone everywhere was giving sturgill Simpson album of the Year awards, but if Country Exclusive had existed, that distinction would have belonged to Eady and without question. I know this is quite an endorsement, but that record was better than any ten I have reviewed here to date, and if you haven’t listened to it, you are doing only yourself a disservice at the amount of stellar songwriting and true country music you’re missing. All that to say, how do you follow something like Daylight and Dark, and then, how do you give it a fair rating? Well, Jason Eady’s answer was this–to strip everything down and make an album that, aside from some steel guitar, could be played entirely without electricity. My answer was not so easy, but as I’ve listened, the beauty in these songs has spoken for itself in a way that does indeed follow Daylight and dark nicely, even if I couldn’t quite see it at first.

“Barabbas” may be one of the most brilliant instances of songwriting we’ve seen yet in 2017, and Jason eady opens the album with this. Of course it’s stripped down, but since the whole record is, this feels like a redundant point to continue making throughout the rest of the record. As for the lyrics, Eady tells the story of the pardoned man freed by the crucifixion of Jesus yet, aside from the title, never mentions Barabbas, Jesus, or anything religious, thereby making the song relatable and universal, a story for all but still holding a deeper connection for those of faith. “drive” was previously performed by the Trishas and written by Eady, Jamie Lin Wilson and Kelley Micwee, but this is an entirely different, more upbeat track; the song tells the story of someone driving away from an ex and letting go of the pain, “looking for a lighter shade of blue.” “Black Jesus” tells of the friendship formed long ago between a white man and a black man; the black man taught the white man the blues, and the white man taught him Hank and Willie Nelson. Now, years later, the white man sings about their friendship and how one day, they will meet again. The song does a good job explaining the message without being preachy; you get the point that we’re all the same in the eyes of God without it being spelled out, and the story told is better than sermon. We need stories like this more, especially in today’s culture. “NO genie in This Bottle” is your typical classic country drinking song, as Eady searches for answers to his life in a bottle. The steel guitar I mentioned before makes this song–oh yeah, that’s Lloyd Maines playing it, and also, that’s Vince Gill adding harmony. This song is very much a case of less is more, and hearing it will do much more than reading my words. “Why I Left Atlanta,” the lead single, is quite similar thematically to Drive.” If I had to pick a song on this record that didn’t stand out in the context of the album, it would ironically be this one, but that’s not much of a criticism when the rest of the album is this great.

“Rain” is a simple, upbeat little song; again, it could be religiously minded but isn’t necessarily, inviting the rain to come and cleanse him. Eady has a talent for calling to mind religious symbolism and imagery in a way that draws parallels for so many without alienating others. It’s good songwriting because so much more comes across in these words–again, less is more. Next, we have Eady’s version of “Where I’ve Been.” My favorite is still the duet from Something Together, but since Eady wrote this, a recording of it from him was long overdue. Credit to Eady and Courtney Patton for making each version quite unique, and credit to Eady for writing a song worthy of three separate versions because it’s just that damn special. “Waiting to Shine” is probably the most lighthearted moment on the record–I already reviewed this song, but basically it’s a song comparing words to diamonds “buried in the bottom of the coal just waiting to shine.” Jason states that “finders are keepers, and I’ll take all the keepers I can find.” For what it’s worth, that strategy paid off in spades on this album. The album closes with two personal songs for Eady; the first is “Not Too Loud,” a song about his daughter and watching her grow up, and the second about all the things he has learned after forty years. The beauty in both of these songs is twofold; they are obviously deeply personal and real for Jason Eady, and yet people everywhere will be able to relate to them both.

This record is one of those that jumps out on the first listen as a good, solid album. But then, as you dig deeper, and the songs begin to speak, and each unique, hidden, sneaky turn of phrase starts to hit you, the greatness of this album starts to shine through. And the fact that the record is stripped down, allowing for this kind of reflection and introspection, is part of the genius that allows these songs to grow. It’s a songwriter’s album, and yet it’s simple and relatable throughout. Add to all this, it’s nothing but country from start to finish, and you have another excellent album from Jason Eady.

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The Case For Inducting Keith Whitley into the Country Music Hall of Fame

It is that time of year when we start anticipating the names who will be added to the famously selective Country Music Hall of Fame. The Hall has been notoriously careful about preserving an elite class of members, to the point there is now a significant backlog of artists, writers, and musicians who probably should already have been inducted by now. I am not writing this to assert that Keith Whitley deserves to be in before say, Alan Jackson, whose exclusion has become almost ridiculous, or to discount others worthy of the distinction. This is why I mentioned the backlog, as Keith Whitley is one of several names who have earned their place here and have yet to receive it. But I do consider it a travesty that Keith Whitley’s motorcycle, pictured here, has made it into the Hall before Whitley himself. So perhaps because of the seeming uncertainty among many that Whitley deserves this honor at all, or perhaps because I want to explain why I signed the petition started by his fans to have him inducted, or perhaps simply because Keith Whitley’s music is one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with country music and still carry a passion for it to this day, I feel especially compelled to reach out and explain why Keith Whitley deserves a place alongside his peers and his motorcycle in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Career

Keith Whitley grew up in Kentucky and first made a name for himself performing in Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys. He was fifteen at the time, and he and fellow singer Ricky Skaggs became widely respected in the world of bluegrass. In 1983, he moved to Nashville and later signed with RCA Records. At first, he made more contemporary country music. His biggest chart successes during this time included the singles “Ten Feet Away” and “Miami, My Amy.” He also married fellow country singer Lorrie Morgan in 1986.

Whitley asked to have his second full-length studio album shelved, feeling that the music wasn’t really his style. Back then, the concept of labels actually listening to artists and giving them creative control was not so foreign, and the result was the 1988 release Don’t Close Your Eyes. This was a more traditional-sounding album, similar to the music being put out by Randy Travis and George Strait. IN fact, Whitley had previously recorded both “ON the Other Hand,” later a hit single by Travis, and “Nobody in His Right Mind Would Have Left Her,” which became a #1 hit for Strait, on his 1985 album L.a. to Miami. Whitley’s vision for Don’t Close Your Eyes proved successful, as the album produced three #1 singles in 1988 and 1989. These included the title track, “When You Say Nothing at All,” and “I’m no Stranger to the Rain,” all of which have become timeless songs. As a fan, I can say they are three of my favorite country songs of all time. “I’m NO stranger to the Rain” won him his only CMA Award and a Grammy nomination. It was expected that Whitley was on his way to becoming a country superstar.

Untimely Death

One of the biggest reasons for the success and popularity of Keith Whitley was the raw emotion he conveyed in his songs. His last producer stated,

There was no Pro Tools at that point. Pitch accuracy and things like that were important. But someone who could express the emotion and really own the song, so to speak, that counted for a lot. And Keith certainly knew how to do that.

Many modern singers have identified Whitley as the one who taught them to bring out this emotion in their songs, not just to sing, but to tell the story of a character.

But the emotional power in Keith Whitley’s voice came at a high price. despite his musical success, Whitley’s life was troubled. He could express pain so easily in a song because he lived it out. His alcoholism was an ongoing battle, made harder by depression and by the fact he had lost both his brother and father by 1987. The country music community was well aware of his struggles with alcohol and were pulling for him; Keith made the issues quite public, and “I’m NO stranger to the Rain” was written about it. He seemed to be trying to deal with it, but on May 9, 1989, at the age of thirty-four, Whitley died in his home of what was ruled to be alcohol poisoning. His blood alcohol level was stated to be .47, the equivalent of 20 1-ounce shots of 100-proof whiskey. And thus, tragically, Keith Whitley’s career had ended just as it had begun.

Influence

So the question is, after only a handful of hit singles, does Keith Whitley deserve country music’s highest honor? As I stated above, there is no doubt that there are many others also deserving of this recognition, and certainly there are names whose inclusion is long overdue. The problem that arises with Keith Whitley is whether or not his career was impactful and long-lasting enough to warrant him such a distinction. Would he really have been a superstar, or does his legacy elevate his status? Does a career as short as Keith’s merit equal respect and consideration with that of someone like the aforementioned Alan Jackson, who is well-liked by the industry and has been churning out quality and commercially successful music for two decades? What sets Keith Whitley apart from the countless others who charted a small string of hits and then faded into irrelevancy?

The answer is Keith Whitley’s legacy and influence. He continued to produce top 5 singles after his death, and several compilation albums were released. Some of his previously unreleased material would come out in subsequent years, and a tribute album was made in his honor in 1994. Alison Krauss’s version of “When You Say Nothing at all” was released as a single from the tribute album; it became one of her biggest hits and has since been covered by other artists. Whitley is considered to have helped open the door for the class of ’89 which included Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and now Hall of Fame member Garth brooks. Garth initially tried to turn down his induction in 2012 because he felt others, including Whitley, deserved to be admitted before him. Tim McGraw, inspired by Keith Whitley’s music and passion, famously arrived in Nashville the day Whitley died and has also cited him as an inspiration for dealing with alcohol issues of his own. Vince Gill began writing “Go Rest High on That Mountain” after Keith’s death, and although Gill finished it several years later following his brother’s passing, the song remains a tribute to Whitley as well; this is embodied in the line, “You weren’t afraid to face the devil, you were no stranger to the rain.” The song won the 1995 Grammy for Best Country Song and has become a standard at funerals and arguably Vince Gill’s signature song. Ironically, Gill said of “Go Rest High on that Mountain” in his own 2009 Hall of Fame induction, “Turns out, if anybody remembers any of my songs, it’ll be this one.”

Keith Whitley is still influencing artists today. Chris Young paid $15,000 for Whitley’s guitar and says Keith influenced his singing. Part of Young’s decision to sign with RCA was that Keith Whitley had been on that label. It’s a shame Chris Young doesn’t take his Whitley-like voice and lend it to less boring songs, but I digress. Other artists, including Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley, are said to play the singer’s music regularly. Perhaps the most impressive and telling sign of the impact of Keith Whitley came in 2014 when then seventeen-year-old Jake Worthington, a contestant on NBC’s The Voice, auditioned with “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” Whitley had died years before Jake Worthington was ever born. The performance became a standout of the season and a hallmark moment for Worthington.

It can be argued that Keith Whitley didn’t do enough in his career to be considered for the Hall of Fame. But few can make the impact he did over such a short time. If he had been able to continue making records, he might be a living legend like George Strait. Or maybe he would have faded into obscurity like so many other artists before and after him. But the fact is, none of this happened, and much like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline before him, his tragic death created a legend and a legacy around him. But it takes more than legacy to explain the kind of lasting impact he had and continues to have on country music. It takes a voice like his that could express such raw emotion, to make songs that inspire people twenty-eight years later. It takes an authenticity and vulnerability rarely seen in music. It takes something real and raw that used to be the foundation of country music, the very thing that is disappearing from the airwaves today. It takes a connection so strong that it can make the kind of impression in a few albums that most artists struggle to make in twenty. Keith Whitley lived out the pain in his songs, and it’s that honesty, that part of himself left behind in his music, which transcends the years, influences generations of artists, and has earned him a place among the most elite in country music.

The Petition to Induct Keith Whitley into the Country Music Hall of Fame

In 2015, a group of dedicated Keith Whitley fans drafted a petition for the singer’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The petition has gained 7,600 signatures so far and states, among other things, that Keith Whitley’s love for and influence of country music should be recognized by the Hall.

Sign the Petition

Country Music vs. Good Music: Does Genre Matter?

There has been a lot of talk lately about genre lines and how important they really are. Does it matter that an album sounds country if the lyrics are bland? Is hearing songs rife with fiddle and steel on the radio really an improvement in itself, or have we gone so far that country-sounding music is praised over good music in general? Do we overlook artists like David Nail and Eric Church, both of whom have put out solid country albums in the past year, while propping up more traditional artists like Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan just because they sound a certain way? All of this boils down to one question: Does genre really matter at all?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer, and there are differing viewpoints on all sides. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because of the sheer number of people who may disagree, and I could ignore it, but I feel inclined to address it, and to be honest with myself and all of you. Honesty is absent everywhere in music right now, and that is one of the driving factors behind Country Exclusive’s existence, so I am going to do my best to provide it.

The simple answer is no, genre doesn’t matter. Good music is good music regardless of who is singing or what genre it is labeled. This is why I gave Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller two different grades–one as a country album, and one as simply an album. It makes a pretty good pop album. Kelsea Ballerini made a decent pop album too and then sent the singles to country radio–and not the best singles either, I might add, but that’s a different story. I wrote that Courtney Marie Andrews defied genre lines in Honest Life, and while not being the most country album, it is the best album I have reviewed to date. Good music can and does come out of every genre, and that is what we should be looking for the most.

To add to that, I want to say that country can be good without having fiddle and steel. I have written in several Red dirt album reviews a sentiment like, “This isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” followed by praise of the album. Red Dirt has a raw honesty that often surpasses genre, and this is evident in the massive sonic difference between Jason Eady and Reckless Kelly, both of whom have produced an inordinate amount of great music during their respective careers. There’s good pop country too, like the aforementioned Carrie Underwood and David Nail. Eric Church produced one of the better albums of 2015, both musically and lyrically, and you won’t find fiddle or steel anywhere on it. I have written a great deal about Maddie & Tae, advising strict traditionalists to give them a chance because they were bringing country back to radio, even if it was pop country. I praised Aubrib Sellers and her debut album which she labeled “garage country.” I’m far from a country purist, ready to criticize something immediately because it isn’t what country “should” sound like.

However, this idea of good music first has been taken too far. William Michael Morgan got a #1 at radio with “I Met a Girl,” which, while indeed lyrically weak, actually sounded country. It’s a step in the right direction as much as the songwriting on Eric Church’s album or the CMA wins of Chris stapleton. Why? Because something actually resembling country can be heard on country radio for the first time in years. But if genre doesn’t matter, why are we even celebrating? Surely Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” is just more shitty music with fiddle and steel.

It’s because truthfully, genre can’t be ignored completely. If you went to a bookstore and found the books arranged in categories of “good” and “bad,” this wouldn’t help you find a book at all. It’s because these terms are subjective. If you wanted to read crime fiction, you would go to the section marked crime fiction, and from there, you could decide which books you wanted to read. If you found romance in the crime fiction section, you would say the book has been put in the wrong place. Of course, there are books that have elements of both and can therefore be classified as both. Now, let’s apply this to music. Crime fiction might be country, romance might be pop, and the two might blend to make pop country. A book containing many different elements might be labeled just “fiction” or “literature”–in music, this could be Americana, with its blending of many styles. There are probably good books in all the different genres, but since you came looking for crime fiction, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a good romance novel. In the same way, if you want to hear traditional country, you won’t find it in the pop country of Carrie Underwood, the country rock of Eric Church, or the Americana of Jason Isbell.

Therefore, when an artist like Morgan comes along, who actually sounds traditional, it’s right to be excited that he’s getting airplay. It’s right to fight to hear more country on country radio–in fact, many of us ran to underground country simply because of the lack of country on country radio. And it’s right to want to see mainstream Nashville and country radio embrace people like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. We can run to Americana and give up on the mainstream altogether, but no matter how you look at it, Americana isn’t country. Some of it is excellent, but it still isn’t country. It isn’t the music we fell in love with, the music we miss. We should praise music of substance regardless of how it sounds, but the lack of country on country radio is just an important a problem as the lack of substance in the music.

I daresay the majority, if not all of us, fell in love with country music, at least in part, by listening to country radio. Maybe you grew up with the legends like Haggard and Nelson. Maybe you remember Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, or maybe you miss the sounds of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill. Maybe you’re like me, and the first country you ever heard was the Dixie Chicks. Regardless, you heard all of them because they were played on country radio and available to the masses, just like their pop country counterparts. Pop country has always been around, but never has it replaced and eradicated the traditional as it has in recent years. Wherever your nostalgia comes from, you fell out of love with country radio after it lost the sound and substance you were drawn to. Today, even though the substance is slowly returning, there is still a noticeable lack of the sound. People growing up with country radio today might associate country with Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, both of whom lack the sound and the substance. Or maybe they’ll associate country with Carrie Underwood and Eric Church–they will recognize the substance but lose the sound. But until Morgan and Pardi, there hasn’t been a traditional sound being carried to the masses in years. Pop country isn’t a bad thing, but the complete elimination of the traditional is a terrible thing, and a dangerous thing for country as we know it. Therefore, when an artist like Morgan breaks through and gets a #1 single, we should all be celebrating. There is still much work to be done in Nashville, both in sound and substance, but Morgan, and others like him, are bringing hope for everyone who thought traditional country was lost. He’s not pop country, he’s not country rock, he’s not Americana. He’s just country. And I miss country. I fell in love with country. Country is my passion as a fan and my focus as a reviewer. It’s what I’ll always love the most, even though I praise and listen to plenty of good music from other genres, and it seemed, not long ago, that the music I loved would be lost forever in the mainstream. I am nothing but glad that Morgan and Pardi have broken through, and that young people out there listening to country radio once again have the opportunity to fall in love with real country the way I did. As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done, but let’s all recognize this for what it is, a positive step, and be glad for how far we’ve come.

Album Review: David Nail–Fighter

Rating: 7/10

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.

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