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Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil: Victims, Enemies & Old Friends

By Gary, on December 3rd, 2010

If you’re at all like me, when you think of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, you think of soul music, not twangy country music. Doc Dailey is here to change your mind.

Victims, Enemies, & Old Friends is the full-length debut of Dailey and his band Magnolia Devil. It’s a follow-up to his self-released 2005 EP The Family, and it’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite 2010 releases.

Dailey sings in a high-lonesome voice that sounds like a metal gate swinging on slightly rusty hinges — again, more Appalachia than Alabama. He’s backed by a band in which pedal steel guitar and banjo figure prominently, along with acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass, drums and the occasional fiddle and horn.

The vocals are arresting, the arrangements always interesting, but it’s the consistently strong writing that makes this album such a treat. These are the kind of songs that you have to listen to in order to follow what’s going on. Not that they’re psychedelic or cryptic like 1970s Neil Young lyrics, but Dailey doesn’t beat you over the head with obvious rhymes and stories that you can guess from the title and first line. Just listen to commercial country radio some time, and even if you’ve never heard the song they’re playing, you’ll be able to sing along by the end of the first verse. These songs aren’t like that.

I like all the songs, but I have no trouble picking a favorite. Or two or three. “Till Death Do Us Part” is a rocking country shuffle, a sweet love song about two lovers named Little Maggie and Earl, with some fiddle, and brushed snares keeping the beat. “Blue Eyed Blonde” is a sad uptempo honky-tonk song about a busted heart. “Red Tail Lights” is a crackling tale of a gal who got left home alone too many nights and is on her way out the door; the guy watches those red lights fade into the distance, “as the one he drove away drove away.” This one is quite bluegrassy, with fiddle and banjo and acoustic bass, even what sounds like a washboard.

But the real emotional center of the album is “Let Me Down,” a mid-tempo rocker that clocks in at six minutes. It follows a woman who arrives at the airport in the middle of a snowstorm and, when she finally gets home, finds her man with another woman. Like any good protagonist in a country song, she orders the cabbie to turn around and take her to “any old bar.”

It’s hard to quit naming favorite tracks. The opener, “Prove Me Wrong,” packs a lot of song into its quick two minutes. “The Only Reason” rocks and rolls as Doc tells a woman that she’s the “only reason I know / to go to Ohio.” “Pray for You” is a tender acoustic song of love to someone who, unfortunately, loves another. “Sunday School” is a loping rocker with wailing pedal steel and distorted electric guitar. The banjo-and-pedal-steel intro to “Alabama Daydream” kicks into a fast shuffling rocker. And both the final two tracks, “The Flame Beneath The Skin” and the title track, are layered chamber-folk.

No matter the arrangement, and whether it happens to rock, shuffle or sway, Dailey’s high-lonesome vocals and his southern-style storytelling keep every song firmly in the realm of country music. You can listen to samples at iTunes and Amazon, as well as at Doc & the Devil’s website. And I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing more from these folks.

Gary Whitehouse

[Southern Discipline, 2010]

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