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.