SUGAR & THE HI LOWS WITH SPECIAL GUEST, GABE DIXON
Monday, December 10th
8:00pm / doors at 6:30pm
Advance general admission: $10
At the door: $12
Table of 4 reserved seats: $50
SUGAR & THE HI LOWS know that popular music isn’t a mirror, that melodies and lyrics aren’t tethered to the cultural landscapes of their day. Breathing a new sound into music with an old soul, this rootsy, vintage duo reminds us why people dance, especially in the midst of hard times.
Music has always had the power to buoy spirits and wash communal hardships into the background. When Judy Garland clicked her sparkling heels and sang of a place “Over the Rainbow,” the rest of the nation was still reeling from the Great Depression and entering World War II. From the ashes of the same economic tragedy sprang Duke Ellington’s flitty jazz number “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” And though decades have come and gone, music still possesses that power.
Ringing in their new sound, Sugar & The Hi Lows are bringing back the era of feel good music, the days when one take as enough and an auto-tune was a thing you did to your ’55 Chevy. Brought to life by experienced songwriter/performers Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup, Sugar & The Hi Lows is a bit of a nostalgic love offering.
Growing up in Mississippi under the sway of Memphis blues, Dabbs was raised to the soundtrack of Motown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. “My father used to make blanket statements like, ‘It’s not good if you can’t dance to it,’” he remembers. And though he wasn’t into his father’s sonic selection at the time, he says that style of music has come to evoke a feeling he just can’t get anywhere else.
“The older that I got, I realized how that was kind of seeping into what I loved musically, and it just brings this joy, it brings this happiness,” Dabbs says. “With the climate of everything right now – with the economy – you could write the most depressing songs ever, but I really feel like the world needs light; the world needs lighthearted.”
The happy-go-lucky numbers that evolved into Sugar & The Hi Lows began to take shape when Dabbs purchased a vintage box amp and sat down in his basement for a regular co-write with Stroup.
“We got talking about his dad and throwback music from the ‘50s and ‘60s and just like, ‘Why isn’t there that type of music now?’” Stroup recalls. That day, their song “This Can’t Be the Last Time” came in less than two hours. But somehow everything had changed. A newfound creative freedom had been tapped, and the next seven tracks for the project fell quickly into place after that.
“We weren’t really trying to treat it like a band,” explains Stroup. “We just wrote this series of songs, but they didn’t feel like an Amy Stroup song or an Amy and Trent duet. It really felt like its own thing.”
With more than 100 TV placements between the two of them, Dabbs and Stroup are certainly no strangers to pop culture, but they’ve chosen to step away from their traditional singer-songwriter sound to pursue something with more of a swing.
Harry Nilsson famously sang, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” For GABE DIXON, one is quite possibly the most liberating number. On his debut solo album, One Spark (Fantasy/Concord Music Group) Dixon flexes a newfound muscularity in tone and texture – delivering the most personal and rewarding music of his young career.
For a decade, Dixon helmed the critically acclaimed The Gabe Dixon Band; originally formed as a quintet at the University of Miami and last heard on record as a trio on their 2008 self-titled release for Fantasy Records / Concord Music Group. The album earned accolades from Paste, The Village Voice, American Songwriter and Performing Songwriter among many others, and virtually the entire album was licensed for use on primetime television. In addition, one of the songs, “Find My Way” was featured as the main title theme for the smash-hit Sandra Bullock & Ryan Reynolds film The Proposal. But, in the Autumn of 2009, when the band exited Seattle’s Benaroya Hall stage to a standing ovation, it would no longer be “The” and “Band,” but only Gabe Dixon. Says Dixon: “Working together over the last ten years, I think we all felt we had made the creative statement we wanted to make and it was time for me to jump into something unfamiliar and uncomfortable, something that would break me open creatively.” Adding, “If I’m living in the moment and I don’t know what’s next, usually something good will happen.”
Just one month off the road, Dixon’s mind quickly turned from bringing a crowd to its feet to putting a baby to sleep, becoming a father for the first time. The odd waking hours of a young dad were filled with a flood of new musical ideas that would ultimately become One Spark and set the stage for an unexpected call from producer Marshall Altman (Matt Nathanson, Kate Voegele, Marc Broussard). “I was in the midst of a baby haze, but I kept getting song ideas, and I began thinking seriously about making another album. Around the same time, I heard through the grapevine that Marshall was interested in working with me.” Says Altman: “I’d become more than a little obsessed with Gabe’s voice over the prior year. I’d listened to his last album on almost a daily basis, and his songs became a source of creative inspiration for me. Just a pure emotional current running through them that reached me, as clearly as any of my favorite music ever had. I was mid-sentence, telling my wife how badly I wanted to find an artist ‘like Gabe Dixon’ to produce, when she stopped me, and said ‘why don’t you just find Gabe Dixon?’”
That ‘living in the moment’ spirit lead Dixon and Altman to jump on a plane and head to London, setting up writing sessions literally ‘on the fly’. Those London sessions, with Ivor Novello Award (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) winner & ex-Snow Patrol member Iain Archer, Starsailor frontman James Walsh and ex-Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross, yielded four of the new album’s twelve tracks: “Strike” and “Perpetual Motion” with Archer, “I Can See You Shine” with Walsh and “Losing You” with Ross.
Collaborators back in the States included Grammy® “Song Of The Year” Award winner Dan Wilson (“My Favorite”), Grammy® “Song Of The Year” Award nominee Tia Sillers (“Even The Rain”) and transplanted Scotsman and Ivor Novello Award nominee Gary Clark (“Release Me”). Even with the diversity of his co-conspirators, the material flows easily into a stream of music unified by Dixon’s identity as a superb songwriter and sublime keyboardist.
Those highly familiar with Dixon’s previous work may be surprised by his accomplishment with One Spark. All of Dixon’s prodigious talent has thickened into a powerful collection of masterful songwriting and performance, giving us as pure a listening experience as we’re likely to find. These songs proudly wear their heart on their sleeve, conveying very human emotions, the things we all want and need but often remain just out of reach: connection, romance and the courage to follow our dreams. Musically, his singular gift is melody, each track deeply-rooted in finely hewed tunefulness, giving his honey-toned tenor the appropriate space it needs to deliver his reflective, thoughtful intent – so rare for a young writer. Like Paul McCartney, who admired Dixon’s gifts enough to offer him a position in his band, Dixon knows how to take you by the hand and dance, be it a romp or a romantic embrace.
The sizzle and sting of love’s possibilities is felt in “Strike,” and “Even The Rain” (with guest vocals by country/bluegrass icon Alison Krauss) leaves us with the ache of recognition as a lover leans in close “like I am your black umbrella.” We’ve all been there, in our hearts – if not in fact. Lovers look past the heartache to find the best in each other in “I Can See You Shine.” “On A Day Just Like Today” is a resolute plea for a relationship’s hard truth, and the infectious “My Favorite” is an anthemic statement of love’s determination and purpose.
Recorded in Los Angeles with new producer Altman and a stellar new cast of players, One Spark significantly broadens Dixon’s palette. These songs rock and Dixon’s fierce, open-hearted piano playing leads the way: “Unlike previous albums, going in, the arrangements & demos were very loose. That first week, we’d run through the song a few times, record the last pass, and move on to the next song.” Continues Dixon, “When we got down to recording the next week, we’d listen to the last pass from rehearsals and then cut the song for the album. We didn’t have a chance to over-think anything. We recorded it as we felt it, and I think that gives the tracks an immediacy and a freshness I’ve never had on record before. It was great to step back and give a little rein to Marshall and the musicians, spread it around and just see what happens.”
Immediate but lasting, fresh yet familiar, One Spark is the milestone first step in the next chapter of Gabe Dixon’s musical legacy. And as album opener “Strike” promises that “one little spark can make a thousand more degrees,” One Spark promises that Gabe Dixon will be striking a chord with listeners for many years to come.