Dion – Blues With Friends – Keeping The Blues Alive Records KTBA610181 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 60:44 ****1/2:
(Dion – guitars, vocals; With special guests ; Jeff Beck; Rory Block; Joe Bonamassa; Samantha Fish; Billy Gibbons; Sonny Landreth; Joe Menza; Van Morrison; Patty Scialfa; Brian Setzer; Paul Simon; Bruce Springsteen; Steve Van Zandt; Johnny Vivino; Jerry Vivino and Joe Louis Walker)
There have been many seminal rock and roll artists. Among them is Dion DiMucci. He rose to fame as the lead singer of The Belmonts with hit singles like “Teenager In Love”. His gritty assured vocal style set him apart from other contemporary youth singers of his days. Born and raised in The Bronx, Dion was influenced by the mellifluous, urban doo wop sound and incorporated it into his broader musical vision. His apex occurred as a solo artist with two landmark recordings, “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”. For six decades, he has recorded and performed, but never captured a steady commercial success (with the exception of the 1970 reflective protest song, “Abraham, Martin And John”). What has stood the test of time is the legion of rock performers (Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen) that acknowledge Dion as a musical inspiration. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1989.
Over his later recording career, Dion explored different styles, but connected with country and especially blues. Albums like Bronx In Blue, Son Of Skip James and Tank Full Of Blues resonated with earnest soulful vocal interpretations. Now 80 years old, Dion DiMucci has released a vibrant homage to blues. Dion – Blues With Friends is as advertised, a collaboration of roots-based material with an incredible lineup of musicians and admirers including Van Morrison, Joe Bonamassa, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Billy Gibbons to name a few. Keeping The Blues Alive has issued a stellar 180-gram double vinyl (which includes a digital download) that is accessible and forceful. At the core of the album is the still visceral singing of Dion (who co-wrote all 14 tunes). Avoiding the cliche of duet arrangements, all of the contributors integrate their talent into the singer’s narrative. Side A kicks off in high gear with “Blues Comin’ On”. The muscular arrangement is powered by Joe Bonamassa’s crisp slide guitar. Dion’s voice is heartfelt and strong. The hard-rocking vibe is relentless. “Kickin’ Child’ (featuring Joe Menza on guitar) is a groove-laden, infectious delight with a surprisingly positive storyline. Drawing on his gospel background, Dion wails on “Uptown Number 7” as Brian Setzer propels the affirmative testament (…It’s a train that’s bound for heaven!…”) with hard rock aesthetics. In a significant departure, “Can’t Start Over Again” is an unadulterated country lament in 3/4 time. Jeff Beck nimble guitar licks frames the singer’s deep emotional shading.
Dion has a penchant for distilling blues essence. With the incandescent help of John Hammond on harp, he glides through a litany of blues contexts (…”Sweet as sugar in the mornin’, in the evening she comes on strong…”) in this singing and talking blues piece (“My Baby Loves To Boogie”). As Bob Dylan intones in the liner notes, there is an inherent strength in blues music. On “I Got Nothin’”, Dion soars with authenticity in a brilliant vocal pairing with Van Morrison. They share the lead with relaxed chemistry. Joe Louis Walker provides the edge on guitar. In a vintage translation, “Stumbling Blues” is accentuated by the saxophone of Jerry Vivino and guitars by Jimmy Vivino. With Chicago blues gravitas, “Bam Bang Boom” is a hypnotic shot of love’s redemption. The inimitable Billy Gibbons injects the song with restrained agony. Legendary slide guitarist Sonny Landreth brings a swamp feel to “I Got The Cure”. Dion’s committed vocals and an earthy horn section ignite this “cure for what ails you”.
A certain highlight is “Song For Sam Cooke (Here In America)”. Reflecting on his experience touring the South in 1962 with Cooke, the folkish-pop/soul ditty is graced by the harmonies of fellow legend Paul Simon. There is doo wop nostalgia, including a “Chain Gang”-like riff. Dion and Simon mesh their voices with organic elegance. Side D returns to grittier dynamics with “What If I Told You’. Samantha Fish lays down some passionate guitar licks. John Hammond returns on slide guitar to bring an Appalachian (as described in the liner notes) traditional glow to “Told You Once In August”. Rory Block shines on slide guitar and vocals. Dion’s performance is transcendental. The acoustics on this track are compelling with Hammond and Block surrounding Dion’s approachable vocals. E Street band veteran Steve Van Zandt brings pyrotechnic intensity to the tough, concise “Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More)”. In a suitable finale, “Hymn To Him” reprises Dion’s 1987 gospel number. Bruce Springsteen contributes a scintillating, thick guitar lead, while Patty Scialfa adds glowing vocals with vibrato and texture.
Dion–Blues With Friends is an understated gem of an album!
Side A: Blues Comin’ On; Kickin’ Child; Uptown Number 7; Can’t Start Over Again
Side B: My Baby Loves To Boogie; I Got Nothin’; Stumbling Blues
Side C: Bam Bang Boom; I Got The Cure; Song For Sam Cooke (Here In America)
Side D: What If I Told You; Told You; Once In August; Way Down (I Won’t Cry Mo More); Hymn To Him