Devin Dawson’s ‘Dark Horse’ is an Intense, Raw Debut

Devin Dawson knows who he is, and his self-awareness is what makes his music raw, powerful, and not always a pretty picture. In a genre where the term “honest” is at times overused and begins to lack gravitas, Dawson reminds us of what it means to be real. Dark Horse reveals each side of the artist; his scars and his sweetness wrapped in a complexity all his own.

Everything about this album is different than everything else out there right now. For starters, it’s hard to tell that the first track is actually playing for the first 30 seconds, which is typical of producer Jay Joyce’s work. The first sounds emitting from the speaker are natural background noises – birds chirping, car keys jingling, an ignition starting, someone sniffing and coughing, and friends greeting each other. After all this, the music for “Dip” (written by Dawson) finally begins with heavy metallic tones and a production-focused intro. It’s unexpected, and it’s awesome.

The hard edges of the lead track are soon softened as the album progresses. “Asking for a Friend” explores the sweet, bashful humility of the narrator as he approaches a girl at a bar and asking if “a friend” (meaning himself) could buy her a drink and and spend time with her: “He ain’t ever been any good at laying it all out on the line / I swear down deep, believe me girl, he’s a really good guy.”

“I Don’t Care Who Sees” (Jacob Durrett/Austin Smith/Jake Mitchell/Dawson) is a flirty, cute song about a guy so in awe of his girl that he doesn’t mind showing his devotion in public. “I held the door, I held your hand / Even hung your jacket on the back of your chair at the bar / But I just remembered I forgot one thing / Never got that kiss before we got out the car.” Fans of Thomas Rhett’s “Star of the Show” and “Unforgettable” will fall head over heels for this track.

“Secondhand Hurt” (Will Bowen/Dawson) expresses feelings of regret, reassessing, and honest second guessing: “If saying goodbye was for the best / Then tell me why am I such a goddamn mess? / If I was the one who broke your heart / Why am I so torn apart?” This song is extremely likeable in both melody and lyrics, and would make a good third single from the album.

Dawson turns up the intensity again towards the end of the album with solo-written songs like “Placebo,” which is a fast guitar jam with key lyrics like “This ain’t love, it’s just a placebo.” “War Paint” is especially high octane, best listened to when you’re furious and headed for revenge on a night out. “Prison” presents an entirely different sound that borders on 80s rock n’ roll and 90s grunge.

The final song – and title track – has been described as Dawson’s “trademark song” that best describes him as a person and artist. The chorus lyrics sum it up best, “I’ll side with the outsiders / Those long-shot last-round fighters / Anyone who ain’t afraid to stray off course / My heart bleeds for country music / Where the honest outlaw truth is / No, I ain’t no white knight I’m a little more dark horse.” At the end of the day, Devin Dawson sets himself apart as an artist who is rooted in his own reality and isn’t afraid to go against the mainstream to create his own path. He is the artist that country music has been waiting for.

Dawson is heading out on tour this spring with Brett Eldredge on his “The Long Way” Tour. Find album and ticket information here.