As concept albums go, Don Dixon’s latest — ten songs about rooms — sounds like a decidedly less-than-enthralling collection. Granted, it beats a song suite about an armadillo/tank hybrid, but as worthy album concepts go, a person could be forgiven for thinking that “rooms” falls somewhere near the bottom of the list.
On the bright side, The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room works as a consistent, consistently engaging listening experience whether or not you’re aware of the thread connecting the songs; matter of fact, it’s really pretty incidental to the album — it’s important mainly as a cheap hook for Dixon’s bio (not to mention an easy intro for a review).
A few words about Don Dixon himself are probably in order; if you aren’t the type of person who reads liner notes (and aren’t into ’80s jangle-rock besides), you may not have heard of him. In certain circles, though, Dixon’s kind of a legend, similar in stature to, say, Mitch Easter (with whom Dixon co-produced R.E.M.’s Murmur.) His career as a recording artist has run roughly parallel to his production activity, although his work behind the boards has gotten a lot more attention. (Think of him as sort of a Southern David Foster, only with better songs and actual artistic integrity.)
Combustible is Dixon’s first release since the turn of the century, and comes after a period in which he was a self-described “shell” — he had essentially given up on songwriting until his daughter asked him to submit a song for a school project; one thing led to another, and before he knew it, Dixon was staring a new album in the face. For patient, discerning listeners who value a little life experience in their music, this is a welcome twist of fate — Dixon’s craggy, soulful voice and sharp, mournful eye will go down easy with folks who swoon over the darker side of artists like John Hiatt or Steve Earle. Start yourself off with “In Darkness Found” (download) and “ICU” (download).