By: Bill Clifford
If you've not yet caught the buzz surrounding The Gabe Dixon Band, allow me to introduce the trio and add to the critical acclaim. After the band independently released More Than It Would Seem in 1999, Dixon was invited to play keyboards on Paul McCartney's 2001 album, Driving Rain, and performed with McCartney's band during the internationally broadcast 9/11 tribute Concert For New York City. Asked by the ex-Beatle to join his touring band, Dixon declined in order to concentrate on his own bands' then yet to be released major label debut. The Tennessean, the group's hometown daily said of the young artist in 2005 that he "deserves to join the ranks of Jackson Browne and early Elton John in the pop pantheon." Most recently, Paste Magazine's Nick Marino christened Dixon the "next great pop piano man," though a more relevant touchstone may be Ben Folds, sans the quirky humor and eccentricities.
The trio originally formed in 1998 (including Dixon, bassist Winston Harrison and drummer Jano Rix,) at the University Of Miami School Of Music. In the years following, Warner Brothers released On A Rolling Ball in 2002 and the Live at the World Café EP in 2005. Then, amidst cutbacks and regime changes, the band was left without a label and unsure of its future. Refusing to give up, Dixon collaborated with former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson, whose co-write of "Not Ready To Make Nice" with the Dixie Chicks earned him a Grammy, as well as with Nashville songsmith Tia Sellers, who won a Grammy of her own for Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance," resulting in The Gabe Dixon Band (released August 26 on Fantasy Records).
The eponymous disc finds the trio re-focusing its efforts away from the jazzy, jam oriented leanings of its formative years, toward classic piano-based songs and arrangements - not "lite" enough for the adult coffeehouse circuit yet not driving enough for Modern Rock radio. It's fair to compare this CD, both sonically and from a songwriting perspective, to Billy Joel's The Stranger. Dixon's piano, like Joel's, is the lead instrument, front and center though several tracks, including a lush string section on one cut while another includes a sensuous guest vocal from Mindy Smith.
The CD opens with "Disappear," with Dixon's delicate yet elegant piano underlining his lyrics detailing a young couple's moonlight escape. The lovers run on, amidst building drums and resonating bass and twinkling piano, till the song reaches home again with lush piano balladry. If discovered by a teenage audience, "Disappear" could easily be THE prom song for the class of '09. "Five More Hours" is a jovial, rollicking road song, reflecting Dixon's return home to Nashville from New York City. It's also one of several songs on which Dixon's singing is similar in tone and inflection to a young Joel. Dixon's soulful Wurlitzer is the foundation for "Further The Sky," his sensual duet with Smith, whose graceful soprano balances sweetly in unison with Dixon's smooth baritone. The somber, bluesy tone imparts a will to prevail against all odds.
The bigger the dream/ The rougher the ride
The truer the love/ The deeper the ache
The blinder the faith/ The tougher the go
The higher you reach/ The further the sky
The more miles you walk/ The longer the road
The steeper you climb/ The harder you stand to fall
The stronger you get/ The heavier the load
The upbeat tempo returns on the ebullient piano and string ballad "All Will Be Well" and the jaunty, bouncy "Find My Way," which both deal with chasing dreams. The first single and video, "Till You're Gone," is a high-energy R&B romp, replete with a gospel choir. Dixon's fingers run rampant on the piano from one key to another on the rhythmic, buoyant "Far From Home," where the lyrics are in strong contrast to the music's blissful tone, finding the narrator in a relationship with a Medusa, gleefully singing, "Everywhere I fix my gaze/ she's turning me to stone/ I'm Lost and I am far from home/ yeah, yeah." Despite the dark lyrics, this is one of the more catchy songs.
"And the World Turned" is a piano and violin tearjerker, a beautiful and alluring tale of a young woman whose true love has passed away and how she struggles to get through each day. "Baby Doll" is to this album as "She's Always A Woman To Me" is to Joel's The Stranger - a gorgeous and graceful love song. Here, the narrator is a friend to a woman in a dead end relationship, looking on affectionately at her eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. Lovely strings and a somber cello emulate his desire to stand by her throughout her strife, while Dixon's exquisite piano blends with his lyrics that reveal his true feelings. The CD closes with a beautiful piano reprisal of "Further The Sky," shining a light on The Gabe Dixon Bands' 10-year struggle in getting to this point.
The Gabe Dixon Band lacks the simple hooks or pop sensibilities or standard guitar-driven angst on radio today likely to catch on with a massive youth crowd and race up the charts. But musically, lyrically and vocally it's far too well written to get lost in the wasteland that is Adult Contemporary Lite. So, it may struggle to find a larger audience. It's in the hands of a fine boutique label, however, with the where-with-all to give the band and this CD the time to develop and build a following. It's a superb CD from a talented songwriter, vocalist and pianist that shouldn't be under-appreciated by music fans, and may likely wind up at the top of many critics' year end lists.
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