David Nail, “Red Light”

david-nailThere’s a potentially interesting song underneath all the lyrical unfocus and musical melodrama that couch David Nail’s third bid to country radio.

The story is this: a girl breaks up with a guy while the two are stopped at a red light. The end. That’s the story. But the guy has taken this time to tell us about it because he’s flabbergasted that she would let their relationship end under such ordinary circumstances, like she doesn’t even care enough about her decision to set aside some actual time to break it to him. It’s a good start, and one could see how that might make for an interesting song, or at least an interesting moment in a broader song about a collapsing relationship.

Problem is, the songwriters chose to hone in on that singular moment. And in all honesty, that moment isn’t nearly interesting enough by itself to sustain an entire song. Oh, they try to make it work by mentioning other details about the moment, presumably in an attempt to “paint a picture” of it. But the details are just irrelevant – how in the world does noticing a mom calming down her baby in another car, for example, factor at all into the moment he’s chosen to sing about? We can picture what he’s talking about, sure, but does it really forward the main idea he wants to drive home to us?

And really, what is that main idea? Is he angry at the girl? Shocked and heartbroken? Kind of disgusted at her coldness? A tangled mix of all that? We don’t really know, because all David Nail tells us is that his “world’s crashing down,” and all his performance suggests is that he knows how to sing pretty.

It’s singles like that get critics in a tizzy about country radio. The fact that “Red Light” doesn’t sound like traditional country music isn’t the crux of the problem – that’s an easy-out. The problem is that, like so much modern country-pop does, it skates by on a catchy melody and skimps on any real lyrical substance. Some will hear this and find it totally meaningful, a wonderful catharsis that speaks on some level to relationship woes they’ve experienced. But they probably won’t feel that way because of anything the song actually says; they’ll just be reacting to a surging, pulsing melody.

And yes: it’s a very effective melody, the kind that’s able to stick in your head for a few weeks or months or however long it takes you to go out and buy the record. Perhaps if the lyric hit its intended mark, or just weren’t so ambitious in the first place, that melody would carry some of the emotional weight it aims for. As it is, the song is left in a state of pleasant but forgettable clutter.

Written by Jonathan Singleton & Dennis Matkosky

Grade: C-

Listen: Red Light



  1. I really like David’s voice but haven’t been into any of the songs he’s released so far.

    By the way this is his third song released to radio he had one on Mercury back in 2002 called “Memphis”.

  2. I actually have the whole promo copy of the 2002 Mercury album and the correlation to Rascal Flatts is an apt one as he sings their song “See Me Through” on that album and if Gary LeVox were to have to leave Rascal Flatts, Nail could step in and replace him and the band wouldn’t ‘skip a beat.’

  3. Matt B. is there any way possible to get a copy of that cd, i’ve searched everywhere and come up with nothing. Thanks for help you can give me.

  4. If you really want to gt it right, it’s not his 3rd release to radio it’s just his 3rd purchasable single. He released a promo cd to radio stations in 2002 which Matt B is talking about, and also in 2002 Mercury released a new music sampler to radio stations which included 2 of David Nail songs.

  5. Ummm David nail should let Jonathan Singleton, the guy who wrote this song handle it. After hearing Jons version this is a TERRIBLE attempt. David Nail is the epitomy of mediocre that has been killing coun try music for years.

  6. David Nail is great. I am a very picky listener as well, but I love this song. Damn, you don’t have to change the world and move people to Jesus when you’re writing a breakup song. It’s great because it’s simple and the lyrics represent what was running through the dude’s mind at the time. I’ve been there, they captured it and David sang it beautifully.


  7. Erin… I’m with you.
    I love the simplicity of this song. After hearing it, I found other work of his online and really like what I hear. I appreciate his influences and I appreciate the “relatableness” of his words.
    Actually, these days if everybody else complains about an artist, that’s a good sign as far as if I will like it. ;-)
    I look forward to hearing more from David when his cd comes out next month.

  8. David Nail is the next BIG thing, so all of you bashers can rest on that. When his CD comes out on August 18th, it will display his broad range of vocals and songwriting abilities. MCA records is a reputable company with artists such as George Straight and Sugarland. They would not have signed an artist if they thought he was just “mediocre”. Oh….and he is reeeeeaaaallllly HOT too! I’m sure you are just jealous, Dan. Not everyone can be as talented and good looking at the same time like David Nail is.

  9. i have been looking for a copy of this 2002 unrelealed album by david nail since i heard “why”on the radio, can ne one help?

  10. That album, and many unreleased albums are very hard to find. Although, if David ‘blows up,’ that CD likely will find a release somehow, even if it’s only digital.

  11. Dan:
    As a struggling songwriter myself, I have to say I find the perceived flaw of this song a much easier fix than songs that try to tackle too much of a story in too little time, as I find myself often doing. I happen to think this is just about as much as a 3 minute, made-for-radio song can hold, lyrically. And the symmetry in the chorus of having the 3 phrases come in reverse order at the end of the chorus is brilliant and highly effective.
    Thanks for your thoughts. I very much enjoy hearing intelligent people discussing songwriting.

  12. I disagree with this review. I thoroughly enjoy this song and its clever premise. Because movies and tv shows have built up these expectations of what a break up will be, we’re caught off guard when it’s mundane, simply done at a red light while driving. We expect a huge build up to the moment when our hearts our broken. But in real life (and what makes this song unique), is that oftentimes, there is no lead up. No dark skies or black cats. That’s life.

  13. I disagree with the author of this article. Anyone who has had an horrific and unexpected breakup does remember the moment, the unrelated details, the commonplaceness of the day, with the exception of this one life-changing moment.

  14. I think this is a good song, but by far not the best on the album. I prefer the song “Mississippi”. As far as the first cd, I have it and it is great. Especially “Why”

  15. I liked “Red Light” a little at first and it kept growing on me so I bought it on I-Tunes last week. I just listened to 3 other songs on his My-Space. Liked “Mississippi” and “Again” and the cd title track isn’t bad.

  16. I came upon this review because I wanted more info on the writers of Red Light. It started out benignly enough and then bam! What a scathing review of what I think is a really great song. So I see at the end Dan Milliken. Hmmm. Who is this guy? Oh he has a myspace music profile. I bet this song must be awesome if he says that about Red Light. Let’s listen… mmmm if I heard Goin Green on the radio I would have changed the station.

  17. I would have to respectfully disagree with Dans review. Given that the unexpected news of the breakup is delivered unexpectedly and presumably unceremoniously, the subject of the song is reeling while trying to maintain some composure. It captures the inceptioon of heartbreak with good metaphorical/allegory – woman calming down a baby in the backseat, old man waiting on green. It strikes me as being the in the simple straighforward delivery similar to Arata’s The Dance. And as all songwriters know, its best when you leave ewnough room for the listener to make it their own.

  18. I stumbled across this review searching so frantically for a song called “Unfortunatly” that was credited to him on Imeem. And well Imeem has been absorbed by myspace so the song is lost in oblivion. I don’t know if it was really by him, sounds like him alot, but 7 years can change a person just enough to not be totally sure. If it is his, you can add Unfortunatly to ALL 11 songs on his released album as being good songs, with atleast 5-6 of them being airwaves great! Again-Awesome, Mississippi-Amazing, ditto for Strangers on a Train, Turning Home, This Time Around. And yes of course the title track and Red Light, because they all paint a picture that even if you can’t relate, you do relate! It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do that with your music. As for bashing country music. We are on the cusp of the next truely great artist. Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Jake Owens, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, etc. The genre is as stacked as it was in the early to mid nineties! It’s a good time to be a Country fan. Mediocrity will be eaten up, and David Nail is not going to be eaten up anytime soon!

  19. I like the picture of David Nail sitting in a NYC subway, with a map of the Subway system behind him.

    Country is for people who live in Small Town, USA; but people from the big city can like country too.

  20. Chesnuttis said:

    “I like the picture of David Nail sitting in a NYC subway, with a map of the Subway system behind him.”

    Buy the cd. The cover has a picture of David Nail on a subway platform and inside you’ll find a lot of great music – at least to this ex-NYC subway rider who received the cd for Christmas.

  21. I totally disagree with this article and the clueless writer. This song is awesome, he’s painted the picture perfectly of what’s happening in his life and “the moment”, the details of his surroundings are like hearing things underwater you are aware of every sound and movement. High praise for David Nail, he “NAILED IT”

  22. Since people are still commenting, for what it’s worth, I’ve always (respectfully) disagreed with the sentiment behind the following:

    Kids will hear this and find it totally meaningful, a wonderful catharsis that speaks on some level to their own relationship woes. But they won’t feel that way because of the lyrics; they’ll just be reacting to a surging, pulsing melody.

    I’m not defending this particular melody, per se, but I firmly believe that there are instances when melodies speak more meaningfully than even the most well-crafted lyrics. The implication in the review is that effective melodies (paired with mediocre lyrics) must have been written primarily to stick in the listener’s head – but I don’t think I can get behind that. There are plenty of melodies that are written with such poignancy and attention to mood, theme and emotion that they alone can make a listener deeply understand a song. I’ve formed strong connections with many such melodies that are, yes, sometimes found in lyrically weak songs, and if that makes me like the “kids” cited above, I’m unashamed.

  23. You phrase that point very eloquently, Tara, and prove why the original wording was unfairly condescending. To be honest, I remember I had a particular person in mind when I said “kids,” and that was also not nice of me. Must have been in a bad mood or something. I’ll change the wording.

    I also definitely agree with your point in a broad sense. This is the kind of song where the lyrics try so hard to be detailed and meaningful that they take up all the attention, making it hard for me to overlook them for the good melody. But there are cases where I certainly have made that allowance, so the post should reflect that. I appreciate you keeping me sharp!

    To the Nail fans: I do like some of the songs on his album. Just not this one. Voice disagreement all you like, but please refrain from further personal attacks on me. Thanks!

  24. And I expect you to keep me sharp as well, Dan :) In all fairness, the melody argument is one that’s been brewing in my head for quite some time, and this was just one way for me to address it.

  25. This is one of the best songs i’ve ever heard! The critic is missing the point of simplistic relative contrast. Put yourself in the place of the “dumped” if you will. Theres so much room in this song for the listeners own imagination and the common elements are in perfect place for this tragic scenerio which many can relate to. As a songwriter myself i can only imagine the intensity of writing such an emotionally moving song! This is what its all about! Incredible!

  26. Well now that time has passed and his full cd is out, my how things change. I really liked “Red Light” and appreciated the “moment in time” scenario, blah, blah, blah.
    So I went to a show he played at a local club to “debut” the cd that came out that day. Was looking forward to the cd release and seeing where this all went. Well, didn’t take long for this guy to go “celeb” and not give a flip about his fans. How disappointing.
    Turns out this Nail is a real tool.

  27. With all the junk that is played on country radio by the same people over and over, Red Light is refreshing. It is one of the coolest songs that has been played on country radio during 2010. Most songs on country radio don’t really have “deep” lyrics. I will gladly settle for a song with a great melody like this any day.

  28. david is an old friend of mine. i met him back in 1997 when we were both playing at this little bar in
    nashville. i got a deal in 2000 that didnt work out. its a good thing i was 24 and cocky!!! anyway i can tell you 2 things for sure. his first record that came out in 2002 is KILLER and he is anything but mediocre but you may have to hear him live to get it. this guy blew me away and i dont get impressed. if you want to hear some sexy songs and cool mid tempos and love songs david sing the fire out of some of them “TRUST ME”

  29. And im referring to the 2002 record. its solid as you can get vocally. the new album is cool i love “clouds” from the current album. funny thing is for those looking for that debut album, there is a used cd store in nashville that gets all these cds from labels from artists they dropped etc. i remember seeing a stack i swear of at least 25-30 of the 2002 album in there and bought one everytime i wore mine out. they were like 3 dollars apiece. now i bet they are 25-30 bucks but its a killer album. if you are not from the nashville tn area call info and get the number to a cd store in nashville called Phonoluxe they had tons of them last time i was there but and a big But it was before he got hot as of late so they will not be 3 bucks anymore but they probaly have his debut from 2002. the cd is red with David Nail written on it. no pics. let me know all you who are looking for it. cause its so good evertime i buy it a friend wants to borrow it.good luck . brian b

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.