On December 6, the Brooks Dixon Band released Pocket Full of Dreams, the band’s — and its leader’s — first full-length album recorded by engineers Ian Guthrie and Brad Phillips at Studio 101. Brooks previously released some solo EPs.
This album just sounds old, and I mean that in a good way. The production is so laid back, focusing on mellow voices, easy drumming, and a sax that just floats through the mix. Look, for all I know there’s some plugin on Pro Tools called “that peaceful, easy production sound that nobody uses anymore,” and these guys just turned it on. But I’m choosing to believe that this is an organic concoction.
Brooks Dixon is the leader, guitar player, and song writer who has been fronting this band for several years. He describes his previous solo recordings as singer-song writer stuff. With this album, he’s trying to capture the feel of the live band. When I hear that kind of thing, I usually think of sounds jumping out of the mix. A drum fill here, a bass run there and, of course, solos. But that’s not this band’s style. There’s even a lyric in “Working on the Weekend” referring to a guitar wailing. The guitar slides in, but it’s just so in the mix. You could miss it if you weren’t paying attention.
My favorite thing about this album is Ross Krieg’s saxophone. He’s all over the place, but never in your face. Just part of the mix, even when he’s soloing (almost). You might not realize he’s there. But man, you’d miss him if he were gone. Shane Byler is a great drummer for this project. He clearly knows how to augment this production style. Jake Watson, the newest member of the band. plays bass and works well with Byler. Watson also plays a little trombone on the record. Sara Middleton sings vocals with Dixon and adds some percussion. She’s got a country-tinged voice that harmonizes well with Brooks’s. His voice is hard to describe. Sort of a wise-cracking James Taylor. Session players Aaron Bowen (keys) and Jacob Johnson (guitar) make contributions. But you can tell these guys play as a unit. They’re a band. I just don’t think you can do an album like this with session guys. At least, I hope not.
The album opens with “Hurricane” a bouncy number that sounds more like a soft summer rain than a serious storm. I love that guitar bounce and the way the sax comes right out of the box. With notes of an organ in a wine tasting way. It introduces the album well.
“Without You” has the same bounce and some of Brooks best lyrics. “The more I look back, the less I see of you, and the more I see what I wanted you to be” and “When I was with you, I was anyone but me.” He doesn’t subscribe to the less is more aesthetic. But with this style, he can get away with it.
“Let Go” starts with the lyric “pocket full of dreams.” It’s a holding-on-to-a-dream song that’s all about the feel. I’m a sucker for any song with the word “radio” in it. I found this trio of songs really compelling. When I first put it on, I had my guitar and couldn’t help playing along.
“Working on the Weekend” and “Down Low” are a touch, just a touch, more rocking. These two fall victim to the Broadcast News syndrome. In the film, Albert Brooks’s character when referring to a television news report by his nemesis in the movie says, sarcastically, “let’s never forget that we’re the real story.” For song writers, it clearly isn’t the same problem that it is for newsmen. After all, we want our songs to be real. But sometimes, a song can be too on the nose. It isn’t fair to say it, but its true. We want them to seem real, not necessarily be real. Of course, they can be both.
“Good Intentions,” which like “Down Low” features Sara’s vocals along with Brooks is a blue-eyed r ‘n’ b number that the band recorded a few years ago. I love the way the sax plays with the guitar in this one. (A lot of these songs, really.) And the bass gets its turn. Nice one to show off the talent these guys bring to the table without losing the overall vibe.
“Pick and Choose” features Johnson’s guitar and has the most country/Americana feel. The album closes with “Trying to Be” with Middleton on the lead vocal, a nice touch for Dixon to put her lead vocal in the closing slot.