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NEWARK STAR-LEDGER- David Nail Review
CD reviews: The War on Drugs, Robin Thicke, James Ehnes and David Nail
Friday, December 23, 2011
The Sound of a Million Dreams
That curious title? Country-pop singer David Nail means music itself; he alludes to its hallucinatory
properties and its ability to capture our aspirations and fears. On the title track to his fine second album, Nail imagines those “million dreams” rising like ghosts or helium balloons suddenly released from his piano. Yet there’s nothing particularly spectral or whimsical about Nail’s sound. In long-standing Nashville tradition, he favors concrete particulars over allusions and metaphors. He tells us about wiping mustard off the bottom of his lover’s lip after she’s eaten a hot dog at a ball game, and imagines a woman he can’t have behind the wheel of a rusty El Camino. There’s no mystery to these reveries, just character-driven tales of broken hearts and friends left behind.
Nail scored a hit in 2009 with the ruminative “Red Light.” But “Let it Rain,” which is currently topping the country charts and elbowing its way onto pop playlists, is his proper introduction to the mainstream audience. The song, a bit of self-flagellation by a rueful boyfriend whose conscience has compelled him to confess a cheating episode, is country only by virtue of its content: It’s hard to imagine a rocker’s conscience bothering him as much as Nail’s narrator’s does. Besides that, “Let it Rain” is pure Eagles-style California rock, with a muscular chorus and some sweetening by singer Sarah Buxton.
While “Let it Rain” is the most obvious hit on “The Sound of a Million Dreams,” it’s not the best song on the set, or the most effective application of Nail’s narrative skills. “Half Mile Hill” is an examination of small town wanderlust that draws a parallel between a father ditching his family for selfish reasons and a singer abandoning his girlfriend to chase glory. It’s an advanced piece of storytelling, and Nail is up to the task. Even better is “That’s How I’ll Remember You,” a power ballad about a breakup that Nail sells with his earnestness. (Some tasty drum fills help, too.) “Catherine,” the only song on which Nail takes full writing credit, is another winner: a Black Crowes-style dedication to the singer’s wife.
Nail’s singing voice is pitched somewhere between Lyle Lovett’s plaintive bray and Blake Shelton’s goodhearted bellow. This makes the Missouri-born singer something of a tweener: he possesses neither Lovett’s knack for irony nor Shelton’s power. When he’s handed generic material — “I Thought You Knew,” for instance, or the randy “Catch You While I Can” — he lacks the vocal chops to distinguish it. But he knows how to bring a strong melody to life, and he’s good at playing ambivalent characters. “Desiree,” cowritten by Keith Urban — a singer Nail might yet grow up to be — is about a poor boy who chooses to desert a beautiful woman because he believes she loves another man’s money more than she loves him. He could be wrong about that, and because he makes what he might be throwing away clear, he gives the listener something to think about.
— Tris McCall