“I’ve never done a record like this,” says Gabe Dixon. “There were no constraints, no
expectations. It’s the most myself I’ve ever been on an album, which just made the
whole experience so refreshing and fun.”
Press play on Dixon’s ecstatic new solo collection, Lay It On Me, and you’ll hear that
sheer, unadulterated joy radiating out from every single track. Recorded with
producer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Dustin Ransom, the album is a testament to
the power of creative freedom and artistic maturity, a bold, self-assured statement
from an artist learning to trust his gut and embrace his instincts like never before. The
songs here are hopeful and uplifting, celebrating the strength and support that comes
with stability and commitment, and the arrangements are similarly bright and
buoyant, blending old school soul grooves with effervescent pop hooks and addictive
rock and roll energy. Dixon and Ransom played nearly all of the instruments on the
album themselves, and the pair’s mix of vintage grit and modern shine proves utterly
intoxicating, suggesting at times everything from Stevie Wonder and Elton John to Ben
Rector and Gavin DeGraw. Given Dixon’s prodigious resume as a sideman—he’s toured
and recorded with the likes of Paul McCartney, Alison Krauss, and, most recently,
Tedeschi Trucks Band—it may seem like a foregone conclusion that his solo work would
sound this poised and confident, but the truth is that the road to Lay It On Me has
been a long and challenging one, and Dixon’s arrival at this moment feels less like a
culmination and more like the beginning of a thrilling new chapter in an already
remarkable career.
“I’ve been on this journey of learning to believe in myself and my music for most of
my life,” says Dixon. “I’ve spent quite a bit of my time playing in support of other
artists’ visions over the years, but with this record, I’ve finally reached a place where
I’m able to fully realize my own.”
Born and raised in Tennessee, Dixon began playing keyboards professionally before
he’d even started high school. As a teenager, you could usually find him hauling his
Hammond B3 organ in and out of Nashville nightclubs he wasn’t even old enough to
legally enter, and by the time he hit 18, he was headed down to Florida to study
classical piano at the University of Miami. It was there that he launched the Gabe
Dixon Band, which included his then-roommate Jano Rix (who would later go on to
fame as a member of The Wood Brothers), and began writing songs with the same kind
of focus and passion that he’d previously reserved for his virtuosic keyboard work.
After graduation, Dixon and the band landed a major label deal and began releasing a
string of acclaimed albums, which helped earn them television appearances on Jimmy
Kimmel Live and The Late Show, festival slots everywhere from Bonnaroo to High
Sierra, and widespread critical praise.
Along the way, Dixon also found himself serving as a hired gun for some of the biggest
names in modern music. Paul McCartney tapped him to play keys on Driving Rain and
at the Concert For New York City; Avicii featured his harmony vocals on the platinum
smash “Hey Brother;” and Alison Krauss, O.A.R., and Supertramp all invited him to join
their touring bands. Rewarding as the work was, Dixon’s heart always lay with his own
music, and he turned down seemingly as many opportunities as he took.
“Early on, I treated playing with other people as an either/or thing in regards to my
own career,” he explains. “As time went on, though, I started to see it more as a
both/and situation, where the lines were more blurred and everything I was doing was
part of this bigger goal of bringing as much beautiful music into the world as possible.”
After dissolving the Gabe Dixon Band, Dixon released his solo debut, One Spark, in
2011, and followed it up five years later with Turns To Gold, his first release on his
own Rolling Ball Records label. Each album brought Dixon closer to the kind of artistic
autonomy he craved, and critics took notice of his evolution as a writer and performer,
with Rolling Stone praising Turns To Gold’s “pop-soul piano” and “compact crunch”
and Paste calling it “heart-wrenchingly honest.”
“I was signed to a publishing company and writing several days a week for other artists
or for film and TV when that record came out,” recalls Dixon. “I met Dustin around
that time, and we decided to see what would happen if we wrote together just for the
fun of it, with no particular goal in mind beyond having a good time.”
In that first collaborative session, the pair managed not only to write a brand new
track, but to record it from scratch in a single day. Working in such a manner was new
for Dixon, who was used to recording live in the studio with a band rather than
building songs up a layer at a time, but he quickly fell in love with the process, which
enabled him to meticulously shape every single element of the sound. Subsequent
sessions with Ransom yielded similarly exciting results, and before he knew it, Dixon
was well on his way to creating what would become Lay It On Me.
“Dustin came to this project as a fan of mine already, particularly of the more
adventurous, jazz-influenced side of what I do,” says Dixon, “so I felt like I could
really be myself around and him. We were like kids at the playground in the studio just
grabbing whatever instruments jumped out to us and building whatever kind of songs
we wanted to hear that day.”
That liberated spirit is obvious not only in the music, but in the lyrics of Lay It On Me,
which is without a doubt Dixon’s most upbeat, inspirational collection to date. The
blissful “Something Good” revels in hope and optimism, while the delightfully funky “I
Believe In Our Love” celebrates the power of deep partnership, and the soulful title
track promises to be there for a lover through thick and thin.
“As an artist, it can be easy to wallow in sadness and self pity,” says Dixon, “but I’m at
a place in my life where I’m done giving in to negativity and despair. I want to be a
source of strength and hope for my wife and everyone I love, and these songs are
about getting through the hard times and serving others.”
Though the record was written well before the COVID-19 pandemic, tracks like the
dreamy “Don’t Look Down” and tender “Last Train Home” feel particularly resonant
given the current state of the world, and sweet, simple love songs like the spry
“Everything About You” and R&B-tinged “I Got Your Love (You Got Mine),” which
features vocals from Susan Tedeschi, take on new meaning in light of all the struggle
and loss we’ve endured of late.
“I couldn’t have written a lot of these songs 15 years ago,” reflects Dixon. “It takes
time to figure out what really matters, what the important things in life are.”
With Lay It On Me, it’s clear that Gabe Dixon has found them.