CD Review of The Nu-Look/Lucky Stars by Dixon/Marti Jones
Don Dixon and
the Jump Rabbits:
The Nu-Look

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

Marti Jones & Don Dixon: Lucky Stars: New Lullabies For Old Souls

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

Recommended if you like
Elvis Costello, John Hiatt,
Willie Nile
Label
D.A.R.
Recommended if you like
Joni Mitchell, Sarah Mclachlan, Loreena McKennit
Label
D.A.R.

D
espite his own ample catalogue, both on his own and in tandem with wife Marti Jones, Don Dixon’s most heralded claim to fame remains what he’s achieved from the producer’s chair, helming the first R.E.M. album and subsequent efforts by some of the most distinctive voices of America’s pop underground – the Smithereens, Chris Stamey, the Windbreakers, Tommy Keene, Richard Barone and James McMurtry among them. In fact, a full list of Dixon’s production credits would likely stretch over quite a few volumes, providing the sort of minutiae and fodder that trivia junkies tend to obsess over.

That’s well and good; indeed, a Dixon production places a special stamp on every album he’s involved with, endowing it with an elevated stature that’s synonymous with a seal of approval from power pop devotees. However, it ought to be noted that Dixon’s efforts under his own aegis merit special consideration as well, and his individual albums -- Most of the Girls Like to Dance But Only Some of the Boys Do, EEE, Romeo at Julliard, Romantic Depressive and Entire Combustible World in One Small Room among them – reflect a specific spunk, a penchant for pure pop exuberance that’s brought him favorable comparison to the likes of Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, and Nick Lowe in particular. It’s an elite crowd, and were Dixon better known by the public at large, he’d likely have reaped similar rewards as well.,

Unfortunately, though, Dixon’s work remains a kind of cottage industry, self-released for the most part, and appearing at random intervals. Which makes the simultaneous release of two albums seem especially significant. They’re both very different, from each other – and, for that matter, from most everything else in Dixon’s canon. The Nu-Look, recorded with a new makeshift trio (Dixon, Jim Brock and Jamie Hoover), nudges his pop palette into retro environs, beginning with the fierce funk of “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy,” an old Willie Dixon number that might suggest the two Dixons share both soul and a surname. It’s a somewhat jarring intro, but as the trio eases into subsequent songs, that rugged R&B finds common ground with Dixon’s usual MO, resulting in a blue collar revelry that borrows its grit and verve from Springsteen, Mellencamp, Seger and other like-minded heartland heroes. An equal mix of relentless rockers (“The Night That Otis Died,” “Sputnik,” “Perfect Girl,” “Six Pack”) and lilting midtemp numbers (“Take a Walk With Me,” “Always,” “Told You So”), it takes its content chiefly from outside sources. Yet being that it samples songs from some relatively obscure writers (i.e. Parthenon Huxley, Charles Keith, and Peter Holsapple, whose dBs nugget “Amplifier” is given a special welcome), it effectively avoids the cover album tag. In his liner notes, Dixon expresses his desire to make a power trio type of album like Disraeli Gears, but The Nu-Look doesn’t pack that kind of incendiary power. Instead, it emerges as a mature rock ‘n’ roll record, infectious, inspired and well worth continued replays.

Meanwhile, Lucky Stars: New Lullabies for Old Souls, a co-effort by Dixon and Jones, makes maturity its mantra. As its names implies, it’s a series of bedtime ballads, an even divide between songs of wistful, restful reflection and instrumental interludes supplied by a string quartet. However, this isn’t an album that requires a setting sun; a Sunday morning respite or any meditative moment would make it apt for inspiration. Jones’ singing is lovely throughout, especially as it’s applied to the soothing title track and the beguiling “Over the Mountain,” a lovely folk tune graced by her soaring soprano. While Dixon wrote most of the songs here, the folk finesse lingers in “Doves of Union County” and “Love Is an Ocean,” a pair of duets that take a traditional stance via sing-along serenades.

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