October 10, 2002

The Ball Goes Flat

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How can an album be blasphemously influenced by both Nick Drake and Phish, collecting only the detritus of each? There is a sort of eccentric, intangible banality on the Gabe Dixon Band’s On a Rolling Ball, its kleptomaniac relationship to ’70s music of all genres so intentionally redundant and pervasive that it almost sounds new in its blatant appropriation of old music. If we can consider The Band essentially just a band covering “Tangled Up in Blue” in different forms, then the Gabe Dixon Band can be summarized as a band tirelessly devoted to Train’s “Drops of Jupiter,” the opening piano riff of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” and the piano on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” These three elements coalesce in nearly every song, interspersing jazz and blues inflections with pop themes and choruses.

The Gabe Dixon Band belongs to that nascent genre that was the end result of listening to both Cat Stevens and the Grateful Dead, melding grumbling pseudo-poetry with the instrumental tact of a jam band. GDB is an underground Dave Matthews Band, suitably honorable in its ostracism of electric guitar and embrace of saxophone and piano. This is apparently a counterrevolutionary progression, seeking to avoid the traditional, antiquated rock formula, but in attempting to “rock” in a different genre (R&B, jazz), they have merely intertwined the most ubiquitous and bland aspects of all the genres, a sort of compilation of the average, or regression to mean.

On A Rolling Ball sounds like every Matchbox 20 song ever written. The musicianship is experienced and capable, the songwriting powerful and emotive, but it’s pursuing stereotypes of genres, not establishing new archetypes. “More Than It Would Seem” appears destined for Top 40 radio: impeccably shallow lyrics delivered in a soulful voice on top of a Stevie Wonder bassline exceedingly similar to the other basslines on the album, which are in turn, well, similar to “Superstition.” It manifests a blissfully short retention in the memory after the song is over, but while it’s actually going on, it seems like a typical pop nugget of a one-hit wonder in the mid ’70s (because it is, directly ripping off the croaking bass lines of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek”). “Corner Caf