Album Review – David Nail’s ‘Fighter’ is Surprisingly Solid

David Nail Fighter

David Nail is one of those artists I’ve always seen potential in when looking the popular country landscape. But I feel like he’s never really shown it in an album and definitely not in his singles (the exception being “Let It Rain”). I hear a lot of love for Nail from mainstream country fans and I’ve been waiting to see this validated. When Nail announced his new album Fighter, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much. In fact I really didn’t plan to review it. I figured I would just give a cursory listen when I was bored and hear the mediocre album I was expecting it to be (like I’ve did with a lot of mainstream albums this year). It’s not like the lead single inspired much confidence and his label MCA Nashville hasn’t handled him the best. So I listened to Fighter and it didn’t meet my expectations at all. It surprisingly exceeded them by a lot.

Fighter kicks off with the upbeat and fun “Good at Tonight.” The Brothers Osborne join Nail and the thing that immediately sticks out about this song is the strong harmonies in the chorus. It immediately hooks the listener in. While the feel good summer night song has been done to death, the infectious vocal performance and warm instrumentation make this not only a solid opening song to the album, but a great future single choice. The album’s lead single “Night’s On Fire” is next. Derek previously reviewed this song and I agree with everything he said in it. This isn’t a completely terrible song, but it’s just generically mediocre in terms of both production and songwriting. Unfortunately, Nail falls into one of my least favorite songwriting pitfalls to hit country in recent years on “Ease Your Pain.” That pitfall is the “your love is my drug” type comparisons that litter this song. So the songwriting wears thin pretty quickly for me here, which might come as a shock because one of the writers of this song is Chris Stapleton (the others are Jesse Frasure and Lee Thomas Miller). The instrumentation isn’t bad, but I just can’t tolerate another song comparing love to drugs because it’s a trope that’s been beaten to death.

Nail rebounds though with “Home,” where he’s joined by the talented Lori McKenna. The song is a piano-driven ballad (with acoustic tinges) about the meaning of home and the relationship bonds tied to them. The songwriting has a lot of heart and it’s very easy to connect with. McKenna sounds fantastic and I’m glad to see her given a chance to shine (definitely looking forward to her upcoming album). This is definitely one of the standouts of Fighter. “Lie With Me” is a love ballad with a great sense of urgency. Upon the first few listens, it feels like this song isn’t much. But upon further listens I find it to be surprisingly catchy. The songwriting isn’t bad and the instrumentation is mostly solid. It could have been better if the production was toned down though.

Nail continues to hit home runs on collaborations with “I Won’t Let You Go.” Here the iconic Vince Gill joins him. Written solely by Nail, it’s a heartbreak song about a man not being able to let go of the relationship he had with his wife. Gill’s contribution to the song comes in the form of his harmonizing with Nail on the chorus, which sounds quite good. It’s kind of perfect for Nail to collaborate with Gill, as I feel they have some striking similarities (strong voices, not traditionally country but clearly talented). The album’s title track is another strong one on the album. The song is about a man praising all of the great qualities of his woman (without reverting to sexist descriptors) and how he admires the fighter in her. While the chorus of this can get a tad checklist-y, it’s a solid effort from Nail. I also enjoy the faint fiddle that intertwines throughout. It’s another song I would like to see as a single.

“Babies” sees Nail reflect on his upbringing, which was crazy at times. But now he has a new kind of crazy in having his own children. He also thinks about how he met his wife and where they’re at now. It’s nice to see Nail show a more vulnerable, personal side to himself, as it’s songs like this that show his true potential and why I hear from so many mainstream fans that support him. There are a few sub par tracks on this album and one is definitely “Got Me Gone.” It’s your standard, shallow love song that relies too much on vanity descriptors in its chorus. It also features some pretty mediocre production, as the pop influences and drum loops are overbearing. Not to mention the effects applied to Nail in the bridge are annoying. This one should have been left on the cutting room floor.

“Champagne Promise” is about a man realizing the woman he’s met is worth nothing more than a champagne promise. Basically she’s just a one-night stand, as she’s not the kind for long-term relationships. For a top 40 adult contemporary song it isn’t bad, but for a country song it relies too heavily on the drum machine. The production is also too smooth and vanilla for my taste. Nail closes the album with his second solo written song on it, “Old Man’s Symphony.” Bear & Bo Rinehart of Christian rock band Needtobreathe join Nail on the song. Nail wrote the song about his own father and once again he shines when he digs deep into his own personal life. Nail sings about how his father played the piano and how he expressed doubt of ever breaking his shadow. He also expresses the great respect he has for his father and how he knows he’ll never be the lead in the band, but only entertain with his words. It’s a refreshingly honest song and perhaps the best on the album.

David Nail delivers his best album yet with Fighter. For most of this album, Nail realizes the potential I’ve seen in him for years. It’s good to finally see it shine through in the music and hopefully this will continue when picking the rest of the singles for this album. While I wouldn’t call this album a traditional country record by any stretch of the imagination, its not pop one either despite it’s adult contemporary leanings at times. It sits somewhere between country and pop, depending on how you draw your lines. The songwriting at it’s worst is banal and unexciting, while it’s best brilliantly draws upon personal experiences to bring raw emotion and passion to the music. While this album won’t set the world on fire, it’s the type of solid music that’s missing too much from the mainstream scene. I will gladly admit David Nail proved me wrong with Fighter.

Grade: 7/10

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7 thoughts on “Album Review – David Nail’s ‘Fighter’ is Surprisingly Solid

  1. I’ve always been a fan of Nail’s, ever since “Red Light.” I’ve seen him live three times and he always gives his all to his performances. (I still remember the first time I saw him, it was an outdoor show on a cloudy night, and when he played “Let it Rain”) it just started teaming rain.)

    This was definitely a solid album. I’d give it a light 8/10. I think “The Sound of a Million Dreams” is still my favorite of his albums.

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  2. Good review. I knew you would criticize the “love as a drug” theme in “Ease Your Pain,” and that’s a fair criticism — but otherwise I think it’s an enjoyable enough song. The producers could have gone crazy with “Ease Your Pain” and “Got Me Gone”, loading them excessively with layers of gimmickry (e.g., “Vacation,” “Fix,” “Wasted Time,” and other current singles on the radio). So we can be thankful that they are organic instrumentally for the most part, even if too clean. In other words, even the mediocre songs on the album are tolerable and far from the worse in today’s radio climate.

    Anyway, you covered all of the best tracks well, and I agree that it is probably his best album. Although, Sound of a Million Dreams is a favorite of mine. I’ll need to do a comparison of the two. More than anything, the vocals are what keeps me coming back to Nail, and your comparison with Vince Gill is spot on.

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  3. I’m a David Nail fan. I’m not a fan of every song or single. He’s not a traditional country artists. Without the Nash-machine production he would be a singer/songwriter or even an americana artist.
    “Fighter” is album #4 (not counting the unreleased 2002 Mercury Nashville album). He can rely on his strong voice & his songwriting again. David Nail found his style & sound. But he is able to put new aspects in his music.
    “Night’s On Fire” is -compared to the most other tracks- weak. The album starts with “Good At Night” & features the Brothers Osborne. Since “Fighter” is not a David Nail & Friends album, i prefer a solo track to kick off an album.
    Best song & my highlight is “Fighter”. Close behind “Home”, “I Won’t Let You Go” & “Champagne Promise”.
    Not a highlight: the production. Less is more guys. 8/10.

    New Artist: Steve Deal – Four Rivers – Album – Independent/Steve Deal – Released (9/14/2015) – 11 tracks
    Born & raised down under. Singing & songwriting in Georgia & North Carolina, USA. Back to Australia to record his first album. The result: Four Rivers & the single “Burn It Down”. “Burn…” went to #8 two weeks ago (Country Tracks Top 40, Australia).
    The album is not country in a traditional way. Steve Deals light-raspy voice might not be strongest. But it works. Strong harmony vocals on a couple of tracks in combination with an atmospheric production makes “Four Rivers” an outstanding album (compared to other australian country music albums). Southern rock fans will like “Stink”.
    My highlights: “Burn It Down”, “Southern Aurora”, “Steal My Heart Away”, “Wider Than Sky”, “Four Rivers” & “I Can’t Take My Eyes Of You”. 9/10.

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  4. Haven’t heard this entire album yet only the less than great radio stuff but as others have said ‘The Sound Of A Million Dreams’ is a very good album. The list of songwriters on that record are very impressive and songs like the title track and the absolutely great ‘Half Mile Hill’ are prime examples that instrumentation is not all country music consists of. It also about universal themes that can override the lack of a country ‘sound’. The fact that they are so often both missing in the mainstream today is an outrage.

    This guy is probably going to always have an uphill climb on mainstream country radio but hopefully he will continue to make music as his talent is undeniable.

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    • I’m having trouble deciding whether this album or “The Sound of a Million Dreams” is his best.

      I’m inclined to think this album is his best in terms of songwriting, but “The Sound of a Million Dreams” is his best in terms of instrumentation and production. They’re about even to me.

      “I’m A Fire” was decent, but it just struck me as too obvious an attempt to make David Nail a radio star and didn’t really scratch beneath the surface as far as the songwriting was concerned. “I’m About To Come Alive” was also decent, but it was inconsistent as far as the songwriting was concerned. For every moment that presented a solid cut like “Turning Home”, he had moments that just didn’t work like “Summer Job Days”. Or he’ll give you “Looking For A Good Time”, but then you have to settle with something as dull as “Again”.

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  5. Though I have always recognized David Nail’s potential, primarily based off of him having one of the best male vocals in the format, “The Sound of a Million Dreams” was the only album that impressed me up until this point.

    As much as I found “I’m a Fire” easily likable, the album seemed too concerned with elevating David Nail as a radio star. It was one of those kind of albums that consistently SOUNDS pretty good, but hardly has anything of substance. The only moment that had depth came with “Brand New Day”: easily the album’s best track. But then you had other moments that tried to pass off as something evocative like “The Secret” and “Burnin’ Bed” that simply did nothing for me despite the intimate production and vocals. I especially disliked “The Secret” due to the self-absorption fueling the lyrics. If you follow them along, it’s about how he impregnates a woman, ten she goes back to her husband and, upon eventually dying, attends her funeral and wonders whether she would miss him or her husband more. I mean, my Jove: that was a really insufferable track especially in how it is passed off as something resembling a “gut-punching moment” with the overtly heartaching-sounding production and vocals.

    Then the rest of the tracks were basically radio-friendly ditties that definitely sounded enjoyable (especially “Broke My Heart” and the title track) in that they evoke some of that Gin Blossoms desert pop-rock sensibility…………………but many of which just struck as filler. We never really got a stare into what makes David Nail tick. It basically screamed “Hey, he’s a great vocalist! Don’t overthink it, just enjoy!”. And to some I get why that’s enough, but I for one knew he was capable of digging much deeper.

    *

    Nail has done EXACTLY that with “Fighter”.

    The opening track, “Good At Tonight”, is about as solid and energetic an album opener as you can hope for. It serves as one of the few radio-friendly moments on this album and an obvious choice for the second single. On the surface, it feels like a continuation of the “I’m a Fire” formula but, once you get to the chorus where the Brothers Osbourne jump in, it’s taken to the next level with impassioned, zest-for-life exuberance. Often I find hand-clapping a distraction as a form of percussion, especially when it feels stilted and comes across more like a percussion loop, but that along with some tasty accordion so effectively makes the chorus feel larger than life and makes for a convincing “Carpe diem!” anthem that doesn’t hit you over the head. Definitely a solid first impression that I hope is wisely chosen as the second single.

    “Night’s On Fire” is obviously a blatant attempt to cash-in on the “Whatever She’s Got” formula success, for better or worse. And while it shares the exact same shortcomings in terms of its production with an unnecessary hip-hop beat driving softer moments of the track and an overly-compressed mix marred by Audio Wars (especially that jarring percussion launching into the first chorus)…………….I’d argue this is better than “Whatever She’s Got” due to lyrics. Sure, it’s really just a song about losing one’s virginity in the general scheme of things. But what I’d argue gives it a saving grace of sorts is the descriptive quality of the lyrics and how they portray multiple various emotions and thoughts leading up to that experience in the back of the narrator’s truck including the subject making an alibi to her mother and the sort of urgency driving the moment (“Like a shot from a gun, it’s a dead run, the first leg of a getaway plan…”). That’s actually some smart, observant songwriting. I’ve personally know many who can attest it DOES feel that way leading up to that moment. And, coupled with some picturesque lyricism of remaining patches of blue in a twilight sky, a blackbird on a telephone wire and hearts in window steam, the lyrics actually get a lot right here. It doesn’t necessarily save the song from its shortcomings otherwise, but you can do a hell of a lot worse.

    “Ease Your Pain” is one of the few filler moments on this album. This is agreeable, but I’d argue an unnecessary inclusion. The production plays off of some of the Phillip Phillips’ neofolk-leaning Adult Contemporary sound, mixed with what sounds reminiscent of Dan Huff-era Rascal Flatts. I get the need to express compassion for your significant other surrounding one’s infertility heartbreaks and other setbacks, but this kind of feels like a half-hearted way of bridging the young-love sentiment of “Night’s On Fire” with giving a fighting chance at creating a home with the following track much like “Every Time I Hear That Song” felt like an unnecessary inclusion to bridge the reflection on lost love with “Bet You Still Think About Me” and the rendezvous with a new woman on “Came Here To Forget” with Shelton’s half-assed album. The lyricism does consist of annoying drug (and novocaine) cliches, but not necessarily in a way that gets on my nerves. This is just………………………….there.

    Fortunately, this forgettable piece of filler is followed by one of several gut-punching moments on the album that prove exactly how much potential and talent Nail has as a songwriter equally as much as a vocalist. He and Lori McKenna unite on an understated ballad that delves into all the nuances surrounding the meaning of home and family. But what’s most brilliant about this cut is that it doesn’t settle on the whole “home is where the heart is” peachy-keen cliche like countless other songs that share its title do. Rather, “Home” also recognizes the moments in the narrator’s life where he was flustered or felt claustrophobic by what he recognized as home and needing to abscond it in favor of pastures new, and what it took for him to have a renewed and passionate appreciation and gratitude of home. I’ve long said that the best songs are ones that recognize both the light and darkness in one breath, and “Home” epitomizes that. You definitely won’t find me complaining if this is nominated as Song of the Year.

    The second of three filler tracks follows with “Lie With Me”. It was definitely one of the stronger cuts off of Lady Antebellum’s “747” but, here, I’m not convinced it serves any real point. Much like with “Ease Your Pain”, it feels like a half-hearted means of bridging surrounding songs so it comes across as a concept album with an identifiable arc when “Fighter” would have achieved that anyway without it. The production is pretty enough with acoustic-driven arpeggios, but the percussion that drives the second verse onward sound rather muddy (especially those militant cymbals in the bridge: yikes!) and get distracting. Still doesn’t tear the song apart, but this should have been better executed if they insisted on its inclusion.

    “I Won’t Let You Go” returns us to soothing, understated ballad territory and, as you would expect, we get another show-stopper. It’s a Memphis blues-influenced number featuring Vince Gill that keeps it simple and serves as a sincere ode to commitment to his wife. The brass instrumentation offers a nice regional flavor true to his upbringing, and the production wisely restrains itself and never gets in the way of the vocal.

    The winning streak continues with the fantastic title track. Unlike with its predecessor, this is driven by percussion, but this time it doesn’t get in the way of the intimate vocal. The lushness of this reminds me of “The End of the Innocence”-era Don Henley in how atmospheric and semi-melancholic it feels, yet still inspires a swelling pride and comfort. The inclusion of a fiddle, however, gives this a semblance of country outside of the songwriting. Lyrically, I won’t overlook some checklist descriptors in the chorus………………..but, to me at least, they don’t drag the song down in this context. The verses that serve as the glue that hold everything together are empathetic of the struggles and tests that she and any woman will endure, and I’d argue some of the more admittedly cliched descriptors work in their populist appeal as opposed to merely objectifying or sexualizing women. Perhaps they could have thought through the chorus and bridge better than they did, but either way this blew me away upon first listen and even having studied the lyrics more attentively, I still get misty-eyed hearing the whole of this.

    “Babies” follows with Nail at his most vulnerable and tender yet, driven by pleasant acoustics, piano and touches of dobro. It is quite easy to come across as schmaltzy and cheesy when peddling an ode to parenthood, but much like Eric Church pulled it off in spades with “Three Year Old”, Nail does so here as well. What I’d argue makes this most poignant is the acknowledgement of initial heartbreak that is infertility touched upon in the chorus and bridge. I can’t help but get teared up when he nearly chokes saying “Thank God you came and saved me…” and then hear the twinkling piano separating his final grateful sigh of relief that he has babies. Infertility is a topic rarely explored in any musical genre, and the raw vulnerability surrounding this adversity makes for a triumphant tearjerker.

    The final of three filler tracks follows with “Got Me Gone”. I have nothing against sexually evocative songs and, honestly, I feel like the production team had mostly the right idea in how to set the dizzying, sensual tone of the song……………….that is, until they decided to work a percussion loop into the mix, including a skittering cymbal effect, that just hits you over the head. Seriously: this would have worked out just fine if you delved into more of the subtle blues guitar effects as you did with “I Won’t Let You Go”. Even “Burnin’ Bed” on your previous album had more of the right idea as far as production was concerned. I do like how the backing female vocals give off a sort of enticing seductive siren feel as any mutual lovemaking song should convey, but I’d argue Nail sounds a bit too serious and uncertain here. Lighten up, man: this is about sex, after all! =P

    “Champagne Promise” is an above-average, sincere-sounding and mature observation of a one-night stand and realizing that though he won’t regret this experience, that it wouldn’t be right to try and pretend it’s something more and this simply is what it is. I like how it builds itself up with ease until it finally powers up into full-band mode in the final chorus to drive home the lesson the narrator has learned in that he needs to be more cautious. I won’t pretend it’s not country, but it just works quite well in how it’s arranged and that the production allows it the breathing room to unfold.

    Finally, we come to one gut-puncher of a closer: the heartfelt ode to his father that is “Old Man’s Symphony”: himself a musician. He also tells part of his own life story surrounding his early music career when first moving to Nashville and being counted out by many of his friends and, ultimately, goes full circle expressing swelling pride in standing in his father’s shoes and feeling his presence on the stage where he stands now. And he acknowledges he’ll always be leading the band in heart, so there’s a genuine sense of humility that makes the song real compelling. So no, nothing groundbreaking necessarily as far as the theme is concerned, but it’s as honest and bare-boned as songwriting gets and is especially brought to life due to the use of sparse acoustic guitar and well-timed strings. Easily one of his best recordings to date.

    *

    So, all in all, “Fighter” is held back from masterpiece territory due to a trio of filler moments, as well as questionable production choices here and there.

    Still, “Fighter” really made me happy listening to. I KNEW Nail was capable of digging deeper on a personal level and had at least another great album in him aching to be divulged………………..and he has proven me right here. Plus, the fact this album has as many as THREE gut-punchers is astonishing in itself. As of late, it seems like we’re lucky to even get one on a typical mainstream release. Honestly, it got to the point where I contemplated giving this album an 8/10 because the high volume of gut-punchers just seemed to greatly eclipse its filler moments.

    Ultimately, however, I decided to settle on a very strong 7/10 for this after evaluating each track as we do a typical Pulse feature here. But this is definitely right on the cusp of something approaching excellence as a full-length body of work and, with the cutting of the filler tracks and putting just a little more time and effort into recording two more songs that stand to the remaining ones in quality besides “Night’s On Fire”, he definitely would have gotten there.

    And just for the sake of perspective, can you imagine how this album would have turned out if it wasn’t for Nail’s wife giving birth to two babies and, thus, feeling inspired to dig deeper and make himself more vulnerable? Gauging by Windmill’s Musical Musings, we likely would have gotten a full-length album stocked full of tracks like “Night’s On Fire” and “Got Me Gone” that were redundantly about carnal desire. I’m sure some of them would have sounded decent enough, but why settle that low? I’m glad Nail agreed! ^__^

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