Thursday, 28 March 2013


(Note: I'm reviewing these in the order I bought and listened to them.)

I was just old enough to be aware of Dion and the Belmonts in the late 50's but by the time I was old enough to start really getting into pop music it was the early 60's and The Beatles and pop music itself was about to explode so I never really paid any attention to Dion Dimucci for the next fifty years when I heard I Was Born To Cry on a budget sampler from Ace Records (UK) (probably the greatest reissue label in the world) and thought to myself  -wow what a voice- and promptly went back hunting for new Ace Blues reissues. Some time later I learned that Dion had released three Blues albums. I tried one, liked it, bought the next and one thing led to another and I began to discover that Dion hadn't faded away after the early 60's. Actually I knew he hadn't and that he'd had a late 60's hit with Abraham, Martin and John in the singer/songwriter/folkie vein. But this time I dug a bit deeper.

I tried an Ace compilation of his gospel material (Dion is profoundly Christian) but the message was more important than the music which didn't appeal to little ole atheist me. A compilation of his 70's material had a little more appeal (70's: From Acoustic To The Wall Of Sound) but by then I'd moved on to another mini-fad. 

Two or three years later and two weeks ago the third of his Blues albums came up in Amazon's recommendations so I listened to samples and bought the CD.

This was a back to the basic approach, a bass player, a drummer-percussionist, and himself on vocals and all guitars. Dion had always been associated primarily with singing but he's always played guitar and is actually very competent. He's also always been a songwriter and he wrote or co-wrote all but the one cover on this album. I think the reason I didn't buy this at the time I bought his other Blues CDs was because I mistakenly thought it was acoustic. It isn't. It's electric, it's raw and Dion's voice is as strong as it ever was. It would be easy to use the phrase at his peak but that would be misleading because he's actually as good as he's ever been. And as a white Blues singer, he may have peers but not many of them.

To be technical, this isn't strictly a blues album, maybe blues-rock, but it really straddles genres. The final track -A Bronx Poem- is spoken, stream of consciousness, flowing one thought, one word into the next, almost rap, heartfelt and surprisingly effective.

And once again, one thing led to another. I looked him up on All-Music Guide (AMG) one of the best, if not the best, online sources about music. One album caught my attention, I listened to samples, bought it.

This latter day (1989) album is definitely up my street in that it's straight forward AOR. It's superbly produced by multi-instrumentalist Dave Edmunds (except for one track produced by Bryan Adams who was so enthused by the prospect of collaborating with Dion that he not only produced, wrote it, sung, played on it, he also brought in k.d. lang on backing vocals). Guest artists also include Lou Reed and Paul Simon who are open in their admiration for the man. Dion himself wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten tracks. You can tell the quality of an artist by the quality of those who want to be associated with him. (Dion has also shared a bill and a stage with Bruce Springsteen who has openly sung the man's praises.)

The songs themselves are generally pretty good. The seemingly braggadocio strut of King Of The New York Streets has a sting in the tail. Written On The Subway Wall has a Mark Knopfler guitar sound (Edmunds). And The Night Stood Still has echoes of Springsteen. Not all the songs are as strong but the overall standard is pretty high. If this isn't one of the best albums of the 80's, it's still a pretty good one. Kudos to Ace Records (UK) for re-releasing it. AMG informs me that it only made 130 in the Billboard charts. It deserved a much wider audience.

Then Amazon recommended to me an album very different to the two above.

This is a tribute to his peers of the late 50's, the foundations on which rock'n'roll is built. They are people he knew, whom he shared bills with. Here he revisits some of their greatest songs to magnificent effect. Dave Marsh the veteran rock music writer who told Dion while on air that he believed three of his albums of the 21st century were the best he's ever made. This, for which he supplies the liner notes, is one of them and it's impossible to disagree. He sings songs by Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis, by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran and Del Shannon. He jammed on guitar in hotel rooms with several of them. 

Somehow, while mostly sticking to the original arrangements, he makes them vital again, not modern exactly, but refreshed by adding his own subtle twists, and, of course, one of the greatest voices of popular music.

Now in his early seventies, Dion has been writing, singing, playing music for over 50 years and unlike any other rock star I can think of is still creatively viable as he makes some of the best music of his long career. He's got old, he's not got stale. 

Still the cool tough Italian kid from the Bronx.

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