A pattern is beginning to emerge for Gabe Dixon fans, one in which a new solo album is gifted to us every five years. After One Spark, Dixon’s solo debut in 2011, and Turns to Gold, which dropped in 2016, Lay It On Me is the piano man’s latest, an album with spirited and even sizzling tracks that make it fairly easy to forgive the half-decade wait between releases.
If you’re somehow new to Dixon’s work, you’ve missed out on 10-plus years of Dixon as bandleader and another 10 as solo artist to date. In between his own releases, Dixon has joined the touring bands for artists like Paul McCartney, Alison Krauss, O.A.R., and Tedeschi Trucks Band. He’s a dynamo on the keys with an impressive range of melodic sensibilities — one informed by his beginnings in a Nashville country act and stretching to his study of classical piano at the University of Miami.
Much of Dixon’s work over the years has earned comparisons to Billy Joel, and that’s certainly a primary influence on Lay It On Me. “Something Good” is a feel-good number anchored in Dixon’s playful piano melody and an excellent baritone sax arrangement from Tyler Summers. It’s impossible to disagree as Dixon sings, “Something good’s going down tonight.”
Joel’s influence is felt throughout Lay It On Me, even if it’s through his many disciples. Shades of Gavin DeGraw, Jon McLaughlin, Jamie Cullum and even (the jazzier side of) John Mayer are all present on Lay It on Me, from a comforting title track (featuring a chorus that’s laugh-out-loud good) to the swankier “Everything About You” (and its thoughtful string arrangement). Meanwhile, Stevie Wonder would undoubtedly appreciate the retro R&B of “I Believe in Our Love.”
One particular highlight towers above the other songs on Lay It On Me, however. “Don’t Look Down” rides a sweet and subdued ’80s groove as Dixon reassures the listener, “So I’ll hold onto you tonight / Keep pretending we know the way / It’s alright, baby / Don’t Look down.” The demeanor of the track stands in stark contrast to the upbeat nature of its neighbors and it works perfectly in sequence. The near-two minute outro, which closes Side A, is perhaps the most musically intriguing moment in the mix and makes you wonder what would happen if Dixon explored this terrain further.
Dixon described the recording process on Lay It On Me as “refreshing and fun,” and that effervescence extends to the listener for its duration. A near-perfect summer release.