If Bob formed my musical tastes, and he certainly did, during my twenties and thirties and into my forties, I have to give a shout out to Billy for introducing me to power pop and pop country in my early forties. I pity the fool who has never benefitted from a Billy or a Bob mixed cd. You’ll discover one-off songs you’d never have even known existed, thematic strands that take you to new paths of auditory pleasure. On those rare occasions when my attempts at reciprocity were met with a props delayed text message, I took momentary pride.
So there was this Billy cd, made as a joint venture for a road trip. And one track with a really cool hook and, at that moment in my life, a relevant one in ways that, should you listen to the song, are not biographical, was this song called Red Light by David Nail. I played the hound out of that song, mostly when I was alone and in the car. But couldn’t find it with any Google search. Finally, I gave up and resigned myself to understanding that it was one of Billy’s random finds.
But I persisted. David Nail. Sometimes when that song came up on a playlist, I would search for him and for about a year, to no effect. But finally, either he scored a major record deal, or my Google searches improved, because I found that song and, surprisingly, a few of his cds that predated the one with the song that had captured my ear. I can’t remember the music site that we all subscribed to back in the day that gave us access to reasonably priced and wider range of mp3s than we could have found at the local Best Buy, but I downloaded, imperfectly, a bunch of his stuff.
I think that Billy had forgotten about that song, which is really no surprise; Billy is the musical equivalent of one those reality TV show West Virginia Hummel hoarders who gathers singers and bands with a ferocity that no mortal can keep up with. But I found the David Nail cd and bought it. More bluesy and jazzy than I had expected but still mostly mainstream country. When I met the woman who would become my wife, David Nail was a staple in my car’s cd player. Both accessible and worthy of multiple listens, his music ran under the radar of the radio and, therefore, made me feel less a country sellout than had I been listening to Keith Urban.
About a year later, I got tickets to the David Nail concert and what mostly struck me was how little the crowd actually moved. There were hundreds of people there, all standing in front of the stage, and almost nobody was dancing or even swaying. They were drinking and watching the stage, but it resembled the sort of audience you’d see watching one of those late night infomercials for some appliance that you might buy in installments of $19.95 over 4 months. And David Nail was doing a decent job of trying to engage the audience. The crowd just wasn’t, for whatever reason, all that engaged. A week earlier, Jason Isbell had played to entirely different effect.
I know that mainstream country has gotten a, deservedly, rotten rap on this blog and in the more discerning halls of musical criticism. Too many songs about drinking with friends, or getting your girl for a ride in your truck where you’ll go to some muddy road and drink, or forgetting that girl by drinking with another girl, or remembering one of your friends who died in Iraq while you’re lifting a toast with your friends who are still alive, all the while wishing that fallen soldier were still here. But tonight when a David Nail song crossed my Pandora list, it took me back, not unlike a taste of a Proustian cookie, to that moment half a decade ago when a friend’s playlist included a song that went on to bring me to this moment.