David Nail has to be one of the most underappreciated artists out there in mainstream country music. We talk a lot about the good guys out in mainstream country, and it seems like Nail is always someone who goes forgotten. Yes, the guy has been responsible for the bro-country song, “Whatever She’s Got”, and his music has never been what one would call “traditional”, but he’s always been different from most of the current crop in mainstream country music. He’s never really cared about being “cool”, and while he’s had some dynamite singles like “Turning Home” and “The Sound Of A Million Dreams” in the past, his album cuts are usually of a high quality as well.
If you’re one of those people who’s looking to “save” country music, let me ask you this. Would you rather have the music be totally devoid of any substance while still maintaining essential country instruments such as steel guitar and fiddle? Or would you rather just have good music that still is rooted in the country foundation while branching out from that? My personal answer is number two, and really, that’s mostly what you get on Nail’s 4th studio album, Fighter.
Finally, somebody has solved the formula for how to make a mainstream country album. In an era where so many mainstream country albums overload on unneeded singles, Fighter seems like a breath of fresh air. It’s an album that triumphs substance over style, making sure to include more gut-punching moments than one would probably expect coming into this. Sure, there’s some tracks that are obviously just here to be single ready, but this is an album with more meat on it than fluff. As I said before, Nail has always made sure to include more substantive material on his other albums, but it’s different this time around.
The substance doesn’t just extend to those three tracks though folks, and that’s another part of what makes Fighter such a great album. The duet with Lori McKenna, “Home” is a leading contender for the best song on this album while “Old Man’s Symphony” is not only a leading contender for best song on the album, but also the best song of Nail’s career. The latter showcases Nail’s musical journey from watching his father play the piano to having thoughts about his own career in music. It even goes further to highlight how Nail’s friends back home thought he was a fool to try the music business, especially if his own father couldn’t make it. With the subtle implication that Nail will always be one to do things his own way first and foremost (“I could be famous, but I’ll never wish to be”), this song is quite simply fantastic.
Even more lightweight moments on this record work at times as well. “Good At Tonight” is simply awesome mostly because the verses are actually well written and the infectious vibe proves that not all fun songs necessarily have to be dumb. Throw in some great accordion and the Brothers Osborne as guest stars and you’ve got yourself a heck of a track. “Lie With Me” also works mostly due to a great vocal performance by Nail.
Of course, unfortunately at its core, this is a mainstream country album, and that damn well means that the label had to sink their teeth in somewhere. The lead single “Night’s On Fire” has never been an outright horrible song, but the heavy production has always made it unpleasing to my ear, something that also plagues “Got Me Gone”. Then of course there’s “Ease Your Pain” which continues the tiring theme of comparing love to some type of drug. And while not a bad song by any means (it’s actually quite good), the production also can be a little much at times on “Champagne Promise”.
Overall though, three songs on a mainstream country album that I don’t care for though? It must be some type of miracle. Nail’s projects have never gone more than three singles deep, so it makes sense to not overload with anymore radio-ready songs than you need. It’s also interesting to point out that the best songs on this album were partly written by Nail.
I have a feeling that this album will unfortunately go unnoticed by many out there, and that’s a real shame. I wasn’t really expecting this great of an album from Nail, but it can’t be stressed enough how refreshing it is to hear a mainstream country albums have songs that aren’t just good for mainstream standards, but damn great in their own right. Sure, there’s noticeable blemishes, but overall I can’t complain. I’d say Fighter joins Brandy Clark in being one of the best mainstream country albums of this year.