Album Review: Devin Dawson’s ‘Dark Horse’

Devin Dawson’s debut release, Dark Horse, is one of country music’s most anticipated albums of 2018 and it’s easy to see why. Drawing inspiration from legends like Johnny Cash and Alan Jackson to Marvin Gaye and Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dawson blends country, Motown and rock for a versatile and memorable release.

The California native had a hand in writing each of the 12 tracks on the project and whether he’s lamenting of the end of a relationship on “Secondhand Hurt” or singing of treating his lady right on the sultry “I Don’t Care Who Sees,” his unique blend of country songwriting and musical swagger leaves a lasting mark on the listener.

Dark Horse was produced by Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town, Brothers Osborne) and quickly cements Dawson as an artist to watch as he sounds unlike anything within today’s country landscape. While the singer’s exterior and promotional image — black and white photos highlighting his sleeve tattoos and all-black wardrobe — may paint him as country’s bad boy, there is so much more underneath the surface.

Devin Dawson; Cover art courtesy Warner Music Nashville

Dawson’s first single, the infectious “All On Me,” is a hint at the talent of the sentimental singer/songwriter. The top 15 and climbing track has the singer telling a girl that she can count on him if she finds herself confused or in trouble. Later, on the sexy “I Don’t Care Who Sees,” he sings of knowing how to treat his lady right and not being afraid to demonstrate this in public.

Rhythmic beats and Dawson’s seductive singing style are further showcased on the jazzy “Second to Last” where he realizes he’s the other man in his girl’s life. Meanwhile, on the atmospheric “Symptoms” he cleverly describes falling for another woman as a sickness. “I don’t need a prescription, you don’t gotta talk to the doctor / ‘Cause a shot in the arm or a shock to the heart couldn’t stop her / She’s dangerous and she’s contagious / I’m coming down with a case of her love,” he sings.

Standout songs like the title track and “Secondhand Hurt” further showcase his talent as an adept songwriter. On closing track, “Dark Horse,” Dawson opens the curtain and shares who he is as a person. One who champions the outsiders and the underdogs, he explains that he often feels like he’s a dark horse. “No, I don’t go to church / Can’t quote a Bible verse / I couldn’t sing a psalm, that don’t mean that I don’t talk to Jesus / Girls say I push ‘em off / That I can’t open up / But I ain’t afraid of love, when I say it I just want to mean it,” he croons.

On “Dark Horse,” he also sings of how “my heart bleeds for country.” This is evident throughout the entirety of his album, especially within the storytelling of the poignant “Secondhand Hurt.” A song that details the struggles a man feels after he initiated a breakup, Dawson’s emotional vocals further exemplify his hurt and confusion.

“If I was the one who called it quits / Why in the hell do I feel like this / If saying goodbye was for the best / Then tell me why am I such a goddamn mess / If I was the who broke your heart / Why am I so torn apart / If I was the one who lit our love and let it burn / Why am I breathing in this secondhand hurt,” he sings on the chorus.

Altogether a standout release, Dark Horse introduces Dawson as an artist and songwriter who needs to be heard. His unique storytelling partnered with Joyce’s standout production give Dark Horse a timeless appeal, which is surely just a taste of Dawson’s promising career.