David Nail is a relatively new voice in contemporary country music, and he's determined. Despite the disappointment of his first album going unreleased because of a label shakeup that had nothing to do with him, he took some time out to rethink his priorities and came right back. He issued the title track of this set as a single back in 2008 to test the waters and then dove in to record a contemporary country record that stands out for a number of reasons. For starters, even though it appears on MCA Nashville, it doesn't sound like the cookie-cutter mold that most albums coming from Music City do these days -- like warmed-over 1970s rock with fiddles and banjos in specific places in songs to make them sound "country." Nail and producers Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke (who is a killer guitar player, too) have assembled a solid set of 11 tunes with an incredible cast of musicians, some of whom aren't normally associated with the genre: legendary Los Angeles session guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboard wizard Chuck Leavell, to name two. And bassist Glenn Worf (among others) may be Nash Vegas fixture, but he's also played on a load of albums by the likes of Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Bramlett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Joan Baez. But it's the songs that make I'm About to Come Alive notable. This group of songwriters seems to have written for this particular singer, and have overwritten nothing.
It's a set of tunes that is almost completely free of clichés. Nail is a vocalist who comes more out of the Don Henley school than Tim McGraw's. He has a beautiful tenor voice that glides through midtempo rockers about places ("Missouri" and "Mississippi"), seemingly aimless travel that costs plenty emotionally ("Strangers on a Train"), lost love ("Again"), and other themes associated with the genre, but he's got so much soul in that voice of his that you believe every word. In addition, the musical arrangements and production are so natural in comparison to what else is out there currently that Nail's sound feels nearly organic. The drums sound live, the guitars are not compressed to death, and his emotive vocal melds perfectly with them. Check out the laid-back "Clouds," a song about leaving through the back door, but for all the right reasons. "Strangers on a Train," with an uncredited backing vocal, is the most killer broken-heart love song on the set. Jim Hoke's harmonica sounds like Neil Young's on Harvest, and Wachtel's guitar playing lifts Nail's voice above the lyrics and he pulls those lyrics with him in his delivery -- also check the straight-ahead rocker "Looking for a Good Time," which is most certainly not a barroom anthem (there aren't any here). For all practical purposes, I'm About to Come Alive is a debut album. And as such, it is an emotionally poignant, musically sophisticated set that reveals a terrific, fully developed singer who brings it all with heat and heart.