Yesterday, a friend and I were bemoaning the generally blah state of roots rock as a genre that had pretty thoroughly picked over the bones of Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, Buck Owens and Johnny Cash, one that overvalues authenticity and undervalues individuality. Exceptions to these thoughts come pretty easily – Plant/Krauss, James McMurtry and Mary Gauthier for three – but bands that fall into that zone are too numerous to mention. It often sounds like the bands are satisfied to write songs that could be mistaken for Music Row products in Nashville’s heyday. That some successfully do so is a testament to the artists’ craft, but a knock-off is a knock-off, no matter how well done.
I got some flicker of hope from the Gabe Dixon Band’s self-titled album. Not an inferno of hope – the title doesn’t risk hype or ratcheting up expectations – but Dixon puts down roots rock’s holy guitar and bases his songs on the piano. Perhaps for that reason, he develops more melodic hooks and isn’t above batting his eyes at the pop marketplace. He doesn’t embrace it entirely, doling out just enough hooks for each song without making anything gaudy. But he knows it’s there.
I hear Dixon as part of the singer/songwriter tradition, primarily in the moderate earnestness of the music, and particularly his vocals. Every word is sung as if it’s important, and anything that could be viewed as superfluous is suspected or rejected. If there’s wit, it’s undersold. That monotone mood is a problem for me, but it’s nice to hear someone take a step in some direction.