Up until now it’s been David Nail’s heartbroken ballads that have separated the Missouri singer-songwriter from his peers. And yet, “Whatever She’s Got,” the lead single off his latest record, I’m a Fire, happens to be the most cheerful song of his career. It’s also one of the most successful: Sticky, bubbly guitars sent it straight to No. 1 on the country charts, and it’s sold more than 1 million copies—an impressive feat in an age of low music sales.
But even as the album demonstrates a newfound sense of joy—Nail started treatment for depression before recording it—he hasn’t left his lovelorn ways completely. Nail is still in command of a classic country croon: clear, weary and slightly nasal. On songs such as “The Secret,” he projects a pristine longing that evokes a young George Strait and even late-’70s Fleetwood Mac.
This week, Nail brings his I’m a Fire tour to Irving Plaza. It’s an ideal venue size for him: small enough for a listener to hear every detail of his intimate, smartly constructed songs but big enough to allow his sound to stretch and expand when he’s radiating joy.—Elias Leight