Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Covering only three years on the Columbia label, this compilation (which includes two previously unreleased versions and a couple of alternate takes) is startlingly changeable as Dion reinvents himself.

It opens with a 1963 song "Can't We Be Sweethearts?" which could have been recorded in 1958 and sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of Grease. This and many other tracks aren't significantly different from his work with the Belmonts and early solo material, in other words doo-wop and teen idol, disturbed only by a Chuck Berry-influenced 'Gonna Make It Alone'. Following these comes a string of his better mainstream pop work with 'Ruby Baby', 'Donna the Prima Donna', 'Drip Drop' and the heartfelt ballad 'Troubled Mind' which just about hints at what is to come.
And then there's a gap of a year. I don't know whether or not Dion actually recorded during that period but on the evidence of this album it's reasonable to infer that he spent much of gap reassessing his music, probably much as a result of the British Invasion. What emerges on these final seven tracks are the Bronx Blues of the title.
Unlike, however, many white American and English blues enthusiasts, Dion does not copy the style or styles of the originators, he sings these songs his way and they are all the better for it. Forget the endless guitar solos of 'Spoonful', Dion's is taut and dynamic and intense and short. He snarls it out with an intense spartan guitar. His 'Seventh Son' is perhaps too much Bob Dylan than Willie Dixon but at least it's different. The penultimate track is 'Two Ton Feather' which he wrote and is one of the best tracks on the CD before concluding with a Bob Dylan song.
What we get in these later tracks is Dion in the process of change from pop star to rock singer. It's an exploration rather than anything definitive which it can be said his earlier work is of its type. I can't think of any other artist who started in the late 50's who transformed himself so much. Of course this results in a very varied and inconsistent album but always a fascinating one.

Amazon review title: Too Much Talent?
No, seriously, from late 50's doo-wop to a unique take on white boy blues in 2007 via singer/songwriter and gospel and a whole lot more. In a career lasting 50 years, Dion has continually reinvented himself. From 1962-65 (as shown on the compilation Bronx Blues) he moved from teen idol with songs like Donna the Prima Donna and Drip Drop to early and excellent attempts at the Blues with Don't Start Me Talkin' and Spoonful.

This excellent Ace compilation covers 1970-76. Here he's a little more laid back as he's in singer/songwriter mode, sliding into folk and sometimes into Dylan. On If We Only Have Love, I swear he sounds like smoothie Jacques blinking Brel! In the excellent booklet, Dion remarks that at the time he was raising three young daughters, "I think that's what brought on the softer music, a lot of it anyway." Even his Phil Spector produced tracks sound almost laid-back, well, for Phil Spector anyway.

This isn't his most immediate record, unlike say 2007's Son Of Skip James which hit me like a hammer, but I've played it a few times now and it's a grower. Let it wash over you for a while and nuances and subtleties and quiet skill all gradually become apparent.

I'd just like to end with an appreciation for Ace Records (UK) who issued this compilation. They are the world's greatest reissue label, known for the amazing variety of music they issue, for the care they take in remastering, for digging out rare and unreleased cuts, for the quality of their liner notes. I'll love them forever for their series of Lightnin' Slim's Excello compilations. This Dion release is absolutely typical of the quality of their product.

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