REVIEW: Devin Dawson – ‘Dark Horse’

Things are really happening for Orangevale native Devin Dawson. His Taylor Swift mash-up video alongside Louisa Wendorff in 2014 caught the eye of Taylor; a quick share on her social platforms and boom, Devin was thrust into the public eye. Over the last couple of years, he’s been working towards his debut album ‘Dark Horse’, and after signing with Warner Nashville last year, 2018 is already proving to be a huge year for Devin. At the time of writing this, the phenomenal single ‘All On Me’ has just hit the top 10 on country radio, and he’s seemingly the name on everyone’s lips right now in Music City.

As is the trend at the moment, quite a lot of this album was already available prior to the release date, giving us a taste of the quality we could expect from the finished product. ‘All On Me’ exploded on Spotify and has 46 million views and counting, and this one really grabbed our attention last year. This wasn’t your bog standard, formulaic country radio hit, this was a guy with a very different voice and a soulful edge to his music that gives a really refreshing feel. We latched on to this early with great excitement, and the tracks that followed more than lived up to expectations.

‘Secondhand Hurt’ and ‘I Don’t Care Who Sees’ came shortly after. The former lures you in right from the off with its rather haunting melody and Devin’s emotionally-charged vocal delivery. “If I was the one who lit our love and let it burn, why am I breathing in this second hand hurt?”. For such a young artist, the depth and complexity to Devin’s song writing is quite astonishing, but he does it with such catchy melodies that become ingrained in your mind. ‘I Don’t Care Who Sees’ shows a slightly more playful side, taking on the persona of a man bursting with pride and admiration for that special someone. Don’t be too surprised to see this one released as a single in the future, it’s got all the ingredients for another radio hit.

Next up was the title track ‘Dark Horse’, the most thought-provoking, deep song on the album. This one was actually written after Devin thought the album was done, but he decided this was the missing piece to the jigsaw. It’s the most personal song he’s written and gives the listener a real insight into his personality, internal battles and the life of a songwriter. “People always ask why I wear black, where’d I get my style and why I never smile in pictures…”. I admire any artist who’s willing to open up their heart to the world with no restrictions and that’s exactly what Devin has done here. It’s brave, honest and impactful.

My favourite track on the album, ‘Asking For A Friend’, came soon after. You know when you hear an intro occasionally that just absolutely melts you? This is one of those. It’s simplistic but in such a warm, engaging way. Lyrically, ‘Asking For A Friend’ is an absolute triumph too with its very clever style. Devin writes from the perspective of someone struggling to pluck up the courage to approach a lost love, the ‘friend’ being non-existent and a reflection of himself. It’s complexity and depth that we don’t often see from mainstream artists; one of the best songs of 2017.

‘Symptoms’ follows suit, exposing the emotions of falling madly in love with someone, “coming down” with love like an infection. It has to be said, it’s not necessarily a country album and this track is the perfect example of the album’s genre-defying, boundary-pushing ability. No-one would bat an eyelid if JT had recorded this for his latest album, but the quality of these songs cannot be ignored regardless of their genre.

With those songs already out in the open, Devin set the bar very high for the rest of the album and boy, did he deliver. A few of the songs aren’t instant favourites but give the album a few spins and they’ll really start to have an effect. The opening track ‘Dip’ is one of those. I think if you have any pre-conceptions about this album you’ll be in for a shock at the sheer diversity on offer; accept it as a non-genre specific collection and you’ll get most joy out of it.

‘Placebo’ is absolutely begging to be released as a UK single. It’s got that nightclub feel and could even be remixed into a mega club hit. You won’t believe this is the same guy that recorded ‘Asking For A Friend’ and ‘Dark Horse’. The groove is just so infectious, I can never sit still when it comes on shuffle! It’s so out-of-the-box but works a treat.

You might hear a familiar voice in the background of ‘I Can’t Trust Myself’. That voice is the immensely talented Jillian Jacqueline; it’s a coming-together of two of Nashville’s brightest rising stars. They’ll be hitting the road together very soon, opening for Brett Eldredge on his ‘The Long Way’ tour; USA – you lucky, lucky people! This is another radio-centric favourite of mine that could well be the next single, particularly with the way Jillian’s career is going too.

‘Dark Horse’ is a ground-breaking album and could well be one that transcends genres as more and more people start to take notice of Devin Dawson. And it’s simply a matter of time. It’s been a long time since we’ve been so excited about a new artist here at YLIAS HQ – Devin has got it all.

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan