by Kevin Ray Palombi
It's a delightfully balmy evening at Founders Park in Farragut, Tennessee. Floating over the children's bubbles and the scent trails from the food trucks are the folksy sounds of faithful Knoxville transplant Adeem The Artist. He’s in cheerful spirits, picking out sharp notes on an acoustic guitar, winding up to join Kiely Connell for a spontaneous cover of John Prine's and Iris Dement's neo-folk classic "In Spite Of Ourselves.” It's the type of jocose bickering country duet that might be at home on one of the late Johnny Cash's cover-centric albums, if only June were around to sing it with him of course.
Just behind the stage stands the predictably good-humored Josh Smith of Handsome & The Humbles. He talks with friends, well-wishers, and ardent devotees in anticipation of his set. The occasion is of course The Lawn Chair Concert Series and the scene looks like a postcard, sort of a modern re-interpretation of Norman Rockwell’s America. Colorful baseball caps, lazy hammocks over the creek, smiling children and well-behaved dogs are as common a sight as the blades of grass that cover the ground below the charmingly-bucolic makeshift stage.
Roland Dixon isn’t playing that stage tonight, yet it’s no great surprise to find him here in the mix. After all, his grandfather Roger Alan Wade just finished a cameo moments ago. Wade made the impromptu decision to jump up on stage during Adeem’s cover of his rambling song “Wreckless Kind.” Roland knows that song well. In fact he knows a lot of Roger’s songs and he has stood on the Lawn Chair Stage a handful of times before; sometimes as the leader his own band “Sparkle Motion”, other times as a literal member of Wade’s often figurative “Big-Ass Happy Family.”
Roland’s mother Shandy is one of two founders of the Lawn Chair Concert Series and is of the key organizers. Shandy is responsible (in no small way) for helping realize and craft the vision that makes Lawn Chair such an iconic and beloved event. Considering then, that Roland comes from a family of talented creators and artists, you may not be surprised to learn he is a poet, songwriter, and musician himself. You may very well be surprised however, to discover the peerless quality of his work.
Such is the focus of this piece. Roland released three new recordings over the summer, giving us a first taste of what to expect as his solo work evolves. I reviewed the first of these three songs (entitled “Right Here”). Afterwards I headed to Lawn Chair Concert Series to sit down for a short yet candid interview with Roland.
It’s hard to comprehend the amount of influence that Roland manages to pack into a track that is comprised of only his voice and an acoustic guitar. The strumming style reminds me of a 90s acoustic-rock staple (think Third Eye Blind). Roland’s vocals seem to draw influence from a range of backgrounds, from confident crooners like Alejandro Escovedo to John Fogerty. The vocals on this track in particular retain an air of gentle yet somehow wild bravado akin to what you’d hear from a deliberately grounded energetic folk singer like Langhorne Slim.
Lyrically the track is hopeful and catchy on the chorus with the verses drawing influence from a deeper school of folk songwriters. The track makes me think of Jakob Dylan, if only for the fact that Roland manages to weave folk and pop / rock influences in a way that’s equally palatable to both music purists and new listeners. With that said, Roland has cranked up the “soul meter” significantly.
I could attempt to draw comparisons between Roland and other artists all day long, but in the end Roland’s style is all his own and in this case that’s a good thing.
Interview With Roland Dixon from Lawn Chair Concert Series Backlot - 8/25/2018
KMW: Who are your favorite songwriters?
Dixon: I’m a big Tom Waits fan. I obviously love Roger Alan Wade, but I also really enjoy Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Don Van Vliet (better known as Captain Beefheart).
KMW: How long have you been playing music?
Dixon: Around six years or so.
KMW: How is your current day-to-day experience shaping your songwriting?
Dixon: College is very regimental and my day-to-day is a lot more nose to the grindstone than it was when I was younger. I have had to hold my ground a lot more in the past few years and I’ve had a few scuffles. These experiences have had a definite impact on my songwriting.
KMW: How does your solo work differ from your work with Sparkle Motion?
Dixon: In some ways it’s darker. I also feel like it’s more true to myself because I have more control over it; more voice.
KMW: When can we catch you play next?
Dixon: I’ll be supporting Roger Alan Wade at Barley’s downtown on September 8th.