The Gabe Dixon Band - Till You're Gone
That picture pretty much sums up how I feel about the Gabe Dixon Band. Like Jeff Giles on Popdose.com I got about 20 emails from a promoter and then received an unasked for review copy of the CD in the post. Via airmail. These guys are keen. Like the puppy, these guys really want to be loved. And listening to them is a bit like looking at the puppy: pleasant, inoffensive, even quite charming at times. There's nothing wrong with labrador puppies in themselves. But to me they're dogs for people who plump for the easy option. Why would you have a labrador when you could have an powerful and beautiful german shepherd? Or a super intelligent collie?
The Gabe Dixon Band are the labrador of the music world. They make perfectly pleasant - accomplished, even - piano driven music. This would be completely fine if I'd not heard Ben Folds' finest moments. Let's do a comparison. Lyrics first. The best word to describe Gabe Dixon's lyrics is "earnest". Here's some taken from track 3, "Further The Sky":
When you don't know when you're going and you don't know why
It feels like another day is bleeding into the night
Lay your head on my chest while my beating heart pounds out the secret of this life
The higher you reach, the further the sky
The more miles you walk, the longer the road [etc etc]
Ben Folds does earnest at times but when he does it there's a serious purpose. "Brick" springs to mind: a moving and at times inspired recalling of his teenage girlfriend getting an abortion. Or "Losing Lisa": the story of a girl who commits suicide, writen with complex, allusive lyrics to an ironically upbeat accompaniment. Gabe Dixon's lyrics aren't bad by any means but they are never more than middle of the road retellings of loves lost and gained that use the same old metaphors ("new day dawns" or "highway as metaphor for earning love" - that last one is used twice) that are so generalised as to lose all real emotional connection. The ones I quoted above are fairly typical. There's nothing wrong with them, it's just that we've heard it all before.
The same goes for the music. It's fine. Just fine. Gabe is a very good pianist and the piano sounds lovely throughout but none of the writing is that exciting. The opening track is early Keane through and through, and god knows that's been done enough. Later tracks are better (particularly Till You're Gone, which you can listen to above) but it's a bit like listening to someone driving exactly at the middle of the road - safe and just a little bit boring.* Till You're Gone is as close as Gabe gets to cutting loose and going wild. What really gets me is that Gabe purports to play prepared piano at some point on this album. This has the potential to make things very interesting as prepared piano can sound completely nuts - John Cage wrote a series of pieces called Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano which sounds quite a lot like a Indonesian gamelan - but having listened through the album a few times on various different speakers I still have no idea where the prepared piano comes in. If you're going to use a prepared piano, actually use it. Not making it audible is like taking your hands off the steering wheel to scare your passenger before revealing that you've got a car that can drive itself in the middle of the road just as well.
I feel bad about being mean to Gabe and the labrador puppy. There's nothing wrong with either of them. It's just that as I listen I find myself wanting to be challenged and I never am. The lyrics aren't going to make you reevaluate your life or see something completely differently for the first time and you're never going to get that wonderful thing with challenging music where you initially go "what the fuck?", then suddenly get it, and then it becomes the most exciting thing in your life up 'til now.** Or the thing where you're so dazzled by how well someone plays or how complex a chord sequence is that you're literally mesmerised. Gabe Dixon Band is none of these things.
I wish Gabe well. I'm just puzzled as to why his promotion guys are working the blogs so hard. Most mp3 bloggers are serious to the point of being fanatical about music. They want to be challenged. They want to be inspired. The Gabe Dixon Band is the kind of music they play as the token bit of contemporary on BBC Radio 2 in the daytime. Mp3 bloggers want BBC 6 Music, or at least late night BBC Radio 1. This is the only time I'm ever going to give advice to promotional people - BBC Radio 2 is where it's at for the Gabe Dixon Band. It's not that there aren't people out there who aren't going to love this music, it's just not the bloggers.
To be honest, it's my mum.
*Actually, that middle of the road metaphor doesn't really work, does it? I mean if you're right in the middle of the road, half of your vehicle is in the wrong lane causing havok.
** That's 'til, Gabe, not till. A till is something you put cash in. EDIT: Turns out I'm wrong about that. Apologies.