The debut album from Michigan native Nick Dakota, entitled Vision, is a fun and often quite soulful collection. He’s drafted some of Nashville’s elite sidemen to contribute to the twelve songs on Vision and the wide skill set possessed by talented professionals like Steve Hinson, longtime steel guitarist for Randy Travis, and Eric Church’s bass player Lee Hendricks, among others, helps realize the material’s potential. There’s some appealing rootsy music scattered over the course of the track listing, but Dakota’s album isn’t a throwback. It respectfully nods to traditional country elements while remaining firmly in the present and features a number of tracks seemingly tailored for country radio. Despite the obvious commercial slant of these songs, Nick Dakota never panders to the audience and there’s tangible authenticity in every move he makes.
He puts his best foot forward with the opener “We’ll Always Have Paris (Texas)”. It has a clever lyric he never unduly plays up and the assertive tone struck by the band never bears down too heavily on the listener. The mid-tempo pace amps up for the first of many memorable choruses on Vision and the song never goes on too long. “How Much I Love You” is an impassioned ballad with some musical muscle behind its own mid-tempo pacing. It’s interesting and a pleasure to hear Dakota’s cool vocal confidence – it strikes a perfect balance between being engaged with the material and distanced enough to maintain a tight connection to the moves made by his accompanying musicians. “How Cool Is That?” opens with some solid acoustic guitar that continues even after the louder electric guitars come in. The drumming is important for setting a tone, but each of these early songs on the album demonstrates considerable musical nuance while still showing off qualities certain to appeal to a wide audience. Like a lot of the great performers in the genre, some of Dakota’s best songs are about characters and “How Cool Is That?” is one of the best examples of that sort of songwriting present on Vision.
“Fall All Over Again” has a little bit more musical fire than the aforementioned songs, but it keeps firmly on the side of commercialism and doesn’t gritty the musical texture too much. The nice striding quality of the arrangement is doubled by a similar effect. Dakota gets his hands a little dirty with the rugged swing of “The Deep End”. His tight and lively phrasing is a good match for the song and the warm slide guitar lines bring some added bite. “Past You and Me” is, arguably, the album’s finest ballad. Dakota’s voice really has a delightfully weathered blues quality and his careful phrasing makes the most of the song’s dramatic emotions. The musical highlight is the beautifully phrased steel guitar licks recurring throughout the song. The slightly stuttering musical arrangement of “Rain Down Sunshine” keeps the song from ever moving full throttle, but it has a nice uptempo bounce and Dakota’s singing bounces over the top with a lot of confidence and musicality. “Sledge Hammer” concludes Vision with hard hitting and imaginative playing, perhaps the best on the album, and a playful Dakota vocal. Top notch production from respected producer Robyn Robins and working with the best players and songwriters available in the genre has given Nick Dakota the tools to make the biggest impression. The album may run a little long and could have probably left an even bigger mark with ten songs instead of a dozen, but Vision establishes Dakota as an immediate force to be considered and a talent with enormous upside potential.