Country music is always looking for the next big thing the next generic young male artist, and Devin Dawson fit that bill perfectly when he debuted with “All On Me” last year. The song got some polite applause and a #2 ranking on Billboard’s airplay chart, but it was a forgettable effort that offered nothing in terms of Dawson’s long-term viability in the genre. Now, Dawson has returned with “Asking For A Friend,” the second single from his debut album Dark Horse, and frankly, after hearing it a few times, I still don’t have any idea if he has a future in this league. It’s a slightly better tune than “All On Me” and won’t offend anyone’s sensibilities, but it won’t leave much of an impression on its audience either.
The production is a standard guitar-and-drum mixture, albeit with a bit more restraint and natural texture that I expected. While your basic strummed acoustic guitar handles the rhythm duties, another axe (which I would describe as “amplified” rather than “electric”) provides some spacious atmospheric noise, and the percussion (“effected” rather than “synthetic”) keeps time in the background. (Some random stabs from traditional country instruments—dobros, steel guitars—are also tossed in for flavor.) Outside of the drums getting cranked up at the start of the chorus, the mood is surprisingly chill and relaxed, and this vibe remains oddly consistent even as the tone of the writing starts to shift (more on this later). Despite the fact that the track obeys the usual serious-song rules (darker guitar tones, frequent minor chords, etc.) and the atmospheric noise fades away as the song reaches its climax, it never feels like the sad song it tries to become. Overall, the production falls into the mushy middle of the genre: Not bad enough to offend the listener, but not good enough to interest them either.
In my “All On Me” review, I declared that “while Dawson’s voice comes across as nondescript and slightly nasal, his delivery is sincere and believable enough to keep the song from feeling creepy.” The same is true for “Asking For A Friend”: Same old middle-of-the-road, nothing-to-write-home-about voice, same old lack of technical difficulty (the song shows off little of Dawson’s range or flow), and the same old just-believable-enough performance to make the narrator feel sincere and sympathetic. (He’s not George Strait smooth, but he’s not Morgan Evans pushy either.) In truth, Dawson’s delivery is a hair better the second time around, as his tone is more consistent and his delivery is less flashy (there are no unnecessary jumps into his falsetto, for example). It’s a decent showing, but he still feels like an off-brand Brett Young who can’t quite connect with listeners on the same level.
The lyrics are centered around the tired, not-clever-at-all “asking for a friend” joke, where the narrator asks about getting into the good graces of a woman on behalf of someone else (and who eventually reveals themselves to be said woman’s old flame). It’s about as lame of a hook that you could think of, and while the song tries to execute a head fake by not revealing the truth behind the relationship until halfway through the song, it’s completely predictable and winds up being not much of a surprise. That said, the writing does a nice job of keeping the story moving (the narrator’s play-it-cool attitude slowly transforms into a desperate plea for forgiveness), and the structure helps keep the narrator feeling sincere rather than sleazy. You won’t be crying into your adult beverage, but you will feel bad for the guy, even if you’ll only remember the song for about three minutes.
“Asking For A Friend” is a slightly better song than “All On Me,” but as a follow-up single I’m not sure it will have the same impact. Still, Devin Dawson shows off some moderate depth and decent charisma here, and given the low bar the genre is setting right now, that’s enough to extend his grace period a little bit longer.
Rating: 6/10. You won’t mind hearing this song and you might even enjoy it, but in a few months you won’t remember it ever existed.