Always on the verge of a breakthrough success, David Nail swings for the fences on 2014's I'm a Fire, his third full-length album. Nail's gifts suggest he's a blue-collar patriot, a working man happy to churn out anthems for the unsung, but he's a bit more subtle than that, identifying exceptional songwriters and never succumbing to the good-time bro-country that is a golden ticket to the top of the charts. His attraction to Shane McAnally songs is a strong evidence of the former -- he cuts two of the hot songwriter's tunes, "Burnin' Bed," which also bears a co-credit by Brandy Clark, plus "Brand New Day" -- but he also spots a sleek little crossover number in "Kiss You Tonight," an adult contemporary tune co-written by American Idol finalist David Cook. Nail's gift is how he avoids bombast -- some of these songs could be delivered with a sledgehammer but the singer chooses to relax and that light touch resonates -- and he makes his connection to the country-pop past explicit through a cover of Jimmy Webb's "Galveston," popularized by Glen Campbell. Nail never seems as casual as Campbell -- he seems to measure every word -- but he nevertheless prefers to undersell his material, which makes I'm a Fire insinuating, not insistent. It may not deliver a knockout punch but it's not intended to be powerful; it's a grower, sounding better with repeated exposure, repeated listens revealing the craft in the songs and the subtlety in Nail's execution.
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Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine