“I guarantee you haven’t seen what I’ve seen
I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy
The face of death staring back at me
Tell me what else you got.”
If this lyric had been found on one of Nashville’s mainstream country albums, it would easy to dismiss as the posturing of a faux tough-guy bro-country act. With Jeremy Nail, there’s no posturing involved. Every word of it is true.
My Mountain, Nail’s second release, comes after a medical emergency that brought his music career to a halt temporarily. The Texas singer/songwriter had just agreed to join Alejandro Escovedo on his next world tour when he was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer that had wrapped around his left leg. After radiation treatment failed, doctors had no choice but to amputate his left leg.
That entire experience, from the diagnosis to the surgery to the rehabilitation, would be enough to drain anyone’s positivity. But My Mountain is anything but a downer record. Nail’s lyrics (he wrote 10 of the 11 songs by himself and co-wrote “Down to the Ocean” with Escovedo) touch on gratitude, overcoming challenges and appreciating life’s blessings.
“I definitely found that positivity and hope helped me heal up through all this and got me through each day,” Nail says.
The band that was assembled for the record (and has backed Nail in concert) includes Bobby Daniels on upright bass, Chris Masterson on guitar, Chris Searles on drums and Eleanor Whitmore on violin. While the emphasis isn’t as much on electric guitar as Nail’s earlier music, their tasteful playing perfectly complements Nail’s lyrics.
“With this one, I wanted the words to be the main focus, and I wanted there to be a lot of space around the instruments, so the voice and lyrics can be real up close. I think we got that, and I’m real happy with how it turned out,” he says. “I’m glad that’s what people are paying attention to.”
As he went through his treatment and recovery, Nail says that he basically went into survival mode, putting music aside to concentrate on the immediate crisis. As soon as he was able, however, he picked up the guitar again and started playing. Eventually he got back to a state of mind where he could write again. Instead of writing directly about his ordeal, he concentrated on the themes, creating songs that anyone could identify with and could relate to their own situations.
“My mountain, the wind begins to moan,” he writes in the album’s title track. “When the night is bearing down on my soul, I call on a friend to help me lift this heavy load.”
“I was training in in-patient rehab with my prosthetic leg,” he relates. “There was this ramp on the first floor, and it was an incline of about 5 degrees — really not very steep — but when you’re pushing the back of your leg against the prosthetic trying to go up this little hill, it was pretty challenging. They called it Mount St. David’s, because I was at St. David’s Medical Center. I remember when my physical therapist said it, the words “my mountain” came to mind.”
My Mountain was produced by Escovedo, and Nail credits him with helping to put the band together and arrange the songs, as well as being a spiritual guide for Nail as he put the songs together.
“We weren’t going for any specific kind of sound, and with the players that we had, we just wanted to let everybody do their thing,” Nail says. “He knew when we were getting the best takes, or what wasn’t working.
“He was on the [studio] floor with us and was waving his arms, kind of conducting the whole thing. We were all in a space where we couldn’t all see each other, but he stood where we could all see him,” he adds.
Nail’s philosophical lyrics are well-served by the songs, from the Buddy Holly vibe of “Dreams” to the moody “The Great Mystery” and “Heroes.” My Mountain engages the listener from the first lines, but it really begs for a quiet, listening room experience, where one can really appreciate Nail’s lyrics.
Nail just wrapped up a swing up to the East Coast and down to Nashville and has more shows lined up in his native Texas. My Mountain is also expected to be released on vinyl shortly. With good health and a critically acclaimed album, Nail knows he has much to be thankful for. The liner notes from the album express his gratitude for not only friends, family and fellow musicians who helped make the record, but also the doctors and support staff who helped get him through his ordeal.
“I tried to keep a little bit of hope through everything that’s going on. I had so much support from my friends and my family. I really got lucky for sure, with all of it. I couldn’t have done all of it without them,” he says.