Songwriter Dallas Davidson, though incredibly successful, hasn’t exactly been on the receiving end of much critical praise over the last few years. As the writer behind Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” and “Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” he’s taken more than a few punches for having ushered in country’s party phase, but he’s got just as many serious songs to his credit. Among them are Justin Moore’s “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” Lee Brice’s “I Don’t Dance” and Frankie Ballard’s “Tell Me You Get Lonely.”
“They’re a little grittier and more representative of who I am if I was to be an artist, but they’re not commercial,” Davidson tells Rolling Stone Country. “I don’t make money off of those songs, unfortunately. I’ve got to write ‘Country Girl (Shake It for Me)’ if I’m going to get paid.”
Davidson’s first release as an artist isn’t exactly the opposite of “Country Girl,” but it should definitely spark some conversations. Titled “Laid Back,” the recording combines his talents with “I Ain’t Your Mama” singer Maggie Rose as well as those of Southern rappers Big Boi and Mannie Fresh.
Built on breezy strums of acoustic guitar, ornate piano filigrees, and a loping breakbeat, “Laid Back” shows Davidson to be a capable singer in addition his mastery of chart-ready hooks. He and Rose trade verses about working hard and blowing off steam at the end of the day/week, a mix of his customary rural pride and wistful nostalgia. “Laid back like the sun in the Georgia sky / laid back like an old plow boy gettin’ high after breakin’ his back all day,” they sing in the harmonized choruses.
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Davidson was in the process of composing the song with Fresh — a founder and producer for New Orleans-based Cash Money records — when they realized they had to make some changes. “[Fresh] said, ‘We need to put a girl on this.’ And I was like ‘Well duh, Maggie Rose,'” Davidson recalls. “So she comes in, we write the second verse and bam, the next thing I know they called Big Boi, he hears it, loves it, and does his rap that day and sent it back to us.”
Their largely carefree portrayal of downtime — parking lots on Friday nights and driving around the farm — is contrasted (perhaps intentionally) by a quick succession of bars from Big Boi, who became famous as half of Outkast but most recently released the 2015 EP Big Grams with electronic group Phantogram. “Oh, and I lean / front seat touch the back seat / Seat belt’s on so the police won’t harass me / No brutality, no blue lights flashing,” he says, indicating that even on his good nights, a different kind of worry is never far away.
“I didn’t want Big Boi to come in and try and tame it down,” explains Davidson. “I wanted him to be Big Boi and so he sent that verse and said ‘Is this okay? Do I need to tone it down?’ And I said ‘Hell no, perfect, do what you do!'”
“Laid Back” is the first taste of Davidson’s forthcoming solo release, reportedly titled Country Boy Swagger, and featuring collaborations with Mystikal and T-Pain, among others.
Additional reporting by Sarah Rodman.