Devin Dawson’s Dark Horse
by Megan Holley
The Country Source had the honor of reviewing Devin Dawson’s anxiously awaited debut album Dark Horse before its official release, Friday January 19th.
Devin Dawson is making waves in country music. Dawson was named on People's “One's to Watch” list for 2017 and recently to Music Row's "Next Big Thing" list for 2018. Undeniably true to himself, his debut album Dark Horse is a testament to pushing boundaries yet still retaining the heart and soul of country music, with poignant lyrics and storytelling.
Dawson isn't new to the music scene. You may recognize him from his and Louisa Wendorff's viral YouTube mashup of Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" and "Style", which Swift shared on Twitter. Dawson grew up listening to country music and says that is how he learned how to write songs. He toured in a heavy metal rock band before moving to Nashville to pursue songwriting. Dawson co-wrote every song on the album, which gives each track authenticity and listeners insight into his own individuality.
With influences like Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, and John Mayer, Dawson is just as lyrically astute and blends the country and rock genres seamlessly. It is also evident that he isn't afraid to push boundaries and instead of "traditional" country he sonically incorporates elements of electronic and R&B genres as well.
This influence is strong in the first track on the album, "Dip". The song sets the mood for the album and is fun, sexy, and evocative.
The second track is Dawson's hit debut single "All On Me". An honest heartfelt track about being supportive for your significant other, the groove is catchy but doesn't overshadow the solid and sincere lyrics.
"Asking For A Friend" is a truly poignant song that paints a picture of a guy asking the woman he loves for forgiveness. Dawson and co-writers Connie Harrington and Brett Beavers started with the song title and the story fell into place from there. Described by Dawson as a quintessential country song, in the end you don't know if she accepts him or not. The song is left up to interpretation. This song is a standout on the album, emotional, and sure to resonate. It could also easily be his next single.
"Second To Last" has a slight jazz sound to it, as well as R&B elements especially before the last chorus. With the lines "You can let him be the closer / I can be the setup man / it's my loss but it's a cold fact that girl I'll be your second to last", he comes to terms with the knowledge that he'll never be the man she ends up with. In this song, Dawson isn’t afraid to be the rebel.
Another genre crossing song is "Symptoms" again with a strong R&B vibe, it's intimate and vulnerable. It compares falling in love to "a toxin that's all in my system". The lyrics and comparisons are clever. The production is textured and fresh, while dialing into emotion.
"I Don't Care Who Sees" is an upbeat, unapologetic, and romantic song. While the latter is more upbeat, it is the opposite of "Secondhand Hurt", about the pain that comes from being the one who ends a relationship. It's on interesting perspective and different to most breakup songs. It's encapsulated perfectly in the lines "Nobody told me how hard it is to be the breaker / I've always only been the broken, the left a lonesome /but they both just feel the same".
"Placebo" is another love song, but very sonically its own. While upbeat and danceable the song is about doing everything in his power to move on, but still not being over someone. You feel the pain and frustration in the line "Every time I fall I just try to convince myself it's the real thing / that ain't it at all".
Another standout on the album is "War Paint", with heavy rock influence the opening line completely draws you into the song "She ain't crazy, like he said she was / there's no mistaking how it's all adding up..." The lyrics are smart and the production adds to the mood of the song. A song about a cheated partner getting revenge, she puts on her makeup aka “war paint”. His vocals are nuanced and this is another standout on the album. The perspective is different to any other song on the album, which helps it stand alone and brings the vivid storytelling to life.
"I Can't Trust Myself" is a contender for another single, its skillful melody and female background vocals drive the narrative, while the song itself has a relaxed vibe. This song contrasts with "Prison". It starts off as very mellow, but the chorus has very heavy rock influence. In vivid lyrics he compares love to a prison. His vocals on this track are particularly raw and dynamic.
The last song on the album is the title track "Dark Horse". It was recorded after the album was thought to be completed and is a vulnerable and personal song for Dawson. Yet even though deeply personal its relatability resonates with fans. It’s lyrically brilliant from each verse to chorus. It’s the perfect footnote to a vulnerable, cohesive, and ambitious debut album.
As Dawson says in “Dark Horse” “No, it ain't that I'm self-conscious, I'm just conscious of myself / And I don’t know how to be nobody else”, Devin Dawson is original. His individuality and soul sets him apart from anyone else in the country genre and we at The Country Source can’t wait to see his career flourish and see what’s next for his future.
Devin Dawson will join Brett Eldredge on his The Long Way Tour starting April 5th in Garden City, ID.