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The Country Matters of Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil

DateThursday, November 11, 2010 at 09:28PM

by Nick Nichols

As my wife and I channel surfed on Wednesday night, we happened upon the Country Music Awards. As a bit of a challenge to myself, I decided to try and watch as much of it as I could before nausea sent me to the nearest receptacle. I make no claims to psychic or prophetic powers, but the affair was exactly as I would have expected: gaudy, pretentious, and characteristically over the top. Prefab artists performed mercifully-truncated versions of the cookie-cutter ditties that manage (baffling as it is to me) to make them millions of dollars. There was nothing new, nothing original, nothing genuine, and nothing even remotely interesting about any of it. It was a circus of costumes, props, and theatrics designed to take formulaic songs about teen crushes, football, and farm implements, combine them with a healthy (if not obligatory) dose of American jingoism, and jam them down the throats of a nationwide audience. It even felt like Loretta Lynn had to perform with Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert in order to appeal to some target demographic that probably has no idea who she is.

But don’t think that I watched the entire mess through the lenses of gloom and doom; far from it, actually. In some ways, watching the CMA’s made me extremely optimistic about the future of country music, that future just wasn’t happening on TV. No, the CMAs provided a great reminder that while “country’s biggest night” was turning into a 60-car pileup in Nashville, there was real country music being made just a few hours to the south in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “Thank God for Doc Dailey,” I told my wife as we turned away from the televised chaos and made our way to bed. I went to sleep knowing full well that on my morning commute seven hours later, I’d be blasting Victims, Enemies, and Old Friends, relishing in country music the way it was meant to be. If ever there was a time and a need for Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil, it is now.

While the glitzy Nashville machine might like you to believe otherwise, Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil take great pains to remind their listener that “life ain’t like the movies” (“Prove Me Wrong”). Delivered with a heavy, Louvin-esque twang and a rock and roll attitude, Dailey’s songs echo the gritty South from which they come, one full of love and heartache, success and uncertainty, winners and losers. Backed by the versatility of Magnolia Devil, Victims, Enemies, and Old Friends floats seamlessly from classic country (“Blue-Eyed Blonde”), catchy rockers (“The Only Reason”), and bluegrass (“Red Tail Lights”) to the symphonic strings of the album’s title track. Each of the songs on the album feels sonically diverse, but all are held together by Dailey’s clever songwriting and unabashed Alabama drawl.

Dailey’s lyrics and the way he deftly pairs words and phrases is reminiscent of his fellow Muscle Shoalsian, Jason Isbell. As is the case with Isbell’s writing, it is clear that each word in each of Dailey’s songs has been thoroughly vetted and is exactly where Dailey wants it to be. “Prove Me Wrong,” the album’s opening track, sets the tone for the record and exemplifies the care with which Dailey approaches his songs’ structure. Dailey’s description of the simple, dizzying intoxication of new love provides the listener with a potent introduction to the tracks to come:

If we take our time and feel each other out right

And make out in this moonlit night,

Then we can just be high without drinks, or pills, or powders

And everything that’s louder

Just quietens with your smile.

My only complaint about “Prove Me Wrong” is that it is too damn short. I’ve moved it to the top of my short-list of “Songs I Wish Wouldn’t End.” Pair “Prove Me Wrong” with the track that follows, “The Only Reason,” and you’ve got a duo of undeniable hooks. The latter is a song that screams for a live performance but also feels radio-ready.

Five, four, three, two, one

I’ve been waiting for someone

With a whiskey voice and a velvet tongue

To carry me carry me away.

Five, four, three, two, one

I’ve been waiting for someone

To take this gun

Out of these shaky hands.

For all this counting, I have lost count of how many times I have listened to this record over the last week. It is one of the most pleasing, enjoyable albums I have heard this year, and one we think universally accessible. Any music fan can find something likable here, and in short order, we suspect that many will. Doc Daily and Magnolia Devil should be embraced by fans of rock, country, Americana, and bluegrass alike. They’ve quite simply found the perfect amalgamation of so many types of Southern-American music that if they do not succeed in what they are doing, there is something seriously wrong with the world. We think Doc Dailey is here to make it right.