2018 CD REVIEW
DARK HORSE (WARNER)
DEVIN DAWSON - ESCAPEE PRISONER OF LOVE AND LIFE
“I stole some hearts but dodged the bars out on the run/ committed crimes but not the time I should've done, oh no, no/ I'd feel the cops, that was enough to start laying low/ until the day I felt these chains not letting go/ call me a convict, I've been convicted/ serving the verdict, a life sentence.” - Prison - Devin Dawson-Seth Ennis-Josh Kerr.
Californian singer-songwriter Devin Dawson is well qualified to use prison metaphors in love songs.
Orangevale born Devin, now 29, grew up near the gates of infamous Folsom Prison where Johnny Cash recorded a live concert disc.
Devin heard the sirens at night so he related to sentiments of several of his songs on his debut album Dark Horse.
So it was fitting that Dawson and director Justin Clough filmed his video for first hit All On Me at the old Tennessee State prison.
The prison is featured in the 1999 The Green Mile movie and Eric Church videos Homeboy and Lightning.
It's also in Old Crow Medicine Show's humorous clip for Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer.
“The video was like the world's about to end, and it's just me and the girl,” Dawson revealed.
“I wanted the visuals to contrast this bouncy, summer kind of driving song. It's playing off of that first line of like, 'hey, I know the woes and the weight of the world can get you down, but don't let it.' So essentially, it's like, 'hey, I know it's the end, and there's nothing we can do about it, so I'm here for you, come lean on me."
All On Me is one of 12 songs Devin co-wrote on his album, produced by Jay Joyce with the same live band that Dawson played with since his Belmont University college days in Nashville where he earned his stripes as a writer for other artists.
“The whole idea was to take this upbeat, positive love song and insert this aesthetic, this darker vibe that I love, which is really in contrast to this song,” Dawson said of the All On Me video.
"I'm such a lyric dude. I usually go more-raw, vulnerable, but to have a positive, awesome, sunny song like that and still satisfy my lyrical heart - I'm glad we came out of the gate with it."
Twin brother Jacob produced his previous single Blind Man before handing production reins to Joyce whose clients include Eric Church , Brothers Osborne and Little Big Town.
"When it came time to choose a title, nobody talked about other options - we knew immediately it should share the same name as the track Dark Horse ," Dawson explained.
"Despite being written after the album was finished, I felt it was absolutely necessary to include this song. Dark Horse captures every corner of my heart, everything I am and everything I believe in.
“I didn't feel like the album was done until that song was done. It didn't feel like it was a whole body of work.”
Songs have long been a creative release.
“That's my way of coping and communicating,” says Dawson .
“It's just something I've done since I was 12 years old. I feel sometimes I hide behind a song a lot with things I need to say and things I need to get out. Sometimes I'm not the best at communicating, but let me write a song.”
SECOND HAND HURT
"If I was the one 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 second-hand hurt?" - Second Hand Hurt - Devin Dawson-Will Bowen.
Dawson followed his music passion as a teenager, listening to nineties country music and soul songs, while playing bass in a rock band, with his brother on drums.
“I needed a break from that kind of artist, like, ‘Listen to me. Watch me. Share me. Buy me. Me, me, me, me'”
In 2014 Dawson and fellow Belmont student Louisa Wendorff ignited their creativity by releasing a video collage of two Taylor Swift tracks, Style and Blank Space.
Within a day of release, Swift saw the video and praised it to her followers with one word: “Obsessed.”
“It really helped both of us further our paths,” Dawson explained.
“It helped put me in the way of publishers and I had to ask myself who I wanted to become. The whole idea was for me to develop and put an EP out, get some buzz and maybe get some leverage before I went to labels. Right before I signed a publishing deal.”
Dawson galloped into producer Jay Joyce's Neon Cross stable as well as Warner/Chappell publishing and recording contract with Warner/Atlantic Records .
While writing for the album Dawson continued touring and used his concerts to road test new material.
“That's one thing people overlook a lot is playing shows is such a huge part of development,” Devin says.
“If you are writing every day, you are not out there playing for people and finding out how they react. I feel like it's important to find the ones that are right for your record.
“I wrote a lot of love songs for the album. I like writing love songs, which is funny because I usually write love songs about where I want to be, not where I'm at.
“I slipped All On Me on the record and it's one of my favourites.”
Ellen DeGeneres presented him on-air with his first RIAA Gold-certified plaque for All On Me.
On Dip , written with Barry Dean and Luke Laird, Dawson recorded the track twice, once with a full electric band and again with an acoustic vibe.
Joyce then spliced the two versions together into a delicious dip.
“The whole song is about leaving a party and going out the back door, so it cuts to a bluegrass version. It's the coolest cut. I still hear something new every time I listen to it,” Dawson says.
Devin's wry word play peaks in songs diverse as Second Hand Hurt and Second To Last that are balanced by passion primed Placebo and I Can't Trust Myself .
Dawson is touring with Tim McGraw and singing spouse Faith Hill on their 2018 Soul 2 Soul world tour and headlining concerts in Germany , Netherlands and U.K. before a planned Australian tour.
He has also toured with Texan troubadour Maren Morris, Brett Eldredge and Dan + Shay and appeared on nocturnal TV variety shows like Seth Meyers.
Devin was also recently honoured by Belmont University during the 10-year anniversary celebration of their pioneering song-writing major.
Warner Music Nashville presented an endowed $25,000 scholarship in Dawson 's name and the university matched the contribution, creating a $50,000 scholarship.
So why write about yet another Dawson in the music genre after pioneers such as Peter and Smoky?
Well, Devin Dawson is alliterated and literate and keeps the family name where it belongs - on the charts and in our hearts.
And, unlike many peers' music, the CD is available on disc - not just digital.