Blues With Friends is something of a master class in the blues. This wanderer knows exactly where he’s going.
Blues With Friends
Keeping the Blues Alive Records
14 tracks / 60:48
Dion DiMucci. You know the name. At least you know the first half of it. Dion, The Wanderer himself, is an icon of rock ‘n roll - one of a special category of entertainers who have earned the status of being known by first name only. In 1961, after leaving his vocal group, The Belmonts, Dion scored a pair of hit songs as a post-doo wop solo artist. The first single, “Runaround Sue,” was the title track from the first Dion album. The single that followed, “The Wanderer,” (a nick-name that has stuck through the decades) was in fact an up-beat twelve-bar blues and a pre-curser to Blues With Friends, DiMucci’s first official blues album. And so, almost six decades later, Blues With Friends finds the singer sounding stronger than ever and very comfortably wandering into blues territory.
For those who are wondering if this pop legend has the grit and visceral chops to be a bluesman, any misgivings will be put to rest as soon as the first track, “Blues Comin’ On,” starts to play. The song is a bluesy barn-burner with an authenticity about it fired by not just the vocals but also by the impressive slide work of no less than Joe Bonamassa.
This opening song is no fluke. Dion covers a wide swath of blues formats, all sounding authentic and genuine, and all impeccably executed. Blues With Friends offers several variations of the traditional form, blues with pop overtones (“Kickin’ Child”), rockabilly Blues (Uptown Number 7”), country blues (“Can’t Start Over Again”), at least one good, spicy blues shuffle (“My Baby Loves to Boogie”), rocking blues (“Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More)”), primitive, minimalist blues (“Told You Once in August”), and even a delightful, nostalgic song that sounds like it could have been a bluesy standard from the twenties (“Stumbling Blues”). The only song not solidly fitting into a blues format is the fine ballad, “Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America),” a reflective song that took decades (and the inspiration of viewing “The Green Book”) to complete.
Those ‘friends,’ by the way, are quite an impressive bunch. The aforementioned guitar-master Joe Bonamassa, Joe Menza, Brian Setzer, Jeff Beck, John Hammond, Joe Louis Walker, Van Morrison (whose seamless duet with Dion is brilliant), Jimmy and Jerry Vivino (who add wonderful character to “Stumbling Blues,” which channels “I’m Confessin’” and “Up a Lazy River”), Billy Gibbons, Sonny Landreth, Paul Simon, Samantha Fish, Rory Block, Stevie Van Zandt, Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen certainly make for some interesting company! This not to minimize the excellent contributions of Wayne Hood, who played guitars, bass, Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Hammond Organ and Drums! Hood also co-produced with Dion.
DiMucci’s fans are well aware of his outspoken Christian faith, and might be asking themselves, ‘can a believer sing the blues?’ “You have to be careful with the blues,” writes Bob Dylan in the album’s notes, “They’re strong with lust and you can overplay them, but they quote the law.” DiMucci sings these songs with a lust for life and an underlying recognition that, for all of the dark side of living in some of these songs, there is, in fact, hell to pay. The balladeer has effectively seasoned all of this rowdy stuff with the knowledge of a higher power who’s a refuge and a help in times of trouble. Sprinkled through the lyrics are reminders of a providential connection. “I got a love that lasts forever, baby. I ain’t got nothin’ more,” sings the protagonist in “I Got Nothin’” - and DiMucci is plainly getting on that train to Glory in “Uptown Number 7.” Capping off the album, Dion reprises “Hymn to Him,” a song from his days in the Contemporary Christian Music market. “He's the light of salvation, He's the head that's never bowed,” he sings, “He's the first step of wisdom, He's the sun through the clouds - Walk with Him.” It seems that this wanderer knows exactly where he’s going.
The bottom line is that Dion’s Blues With Friends is something of a master class in the blues. His vocals have the ring of truth and experience behind them, along with the warmth and uniquely identifiable tone that makes us feel like we’re, in fact, listening to an old friend. That’s what the blues are essentially about - believability. The playing can be great, the production can be impeccable - but if there’s no authenticity, it won’t feel like the blues. Blues With Friends will make you a believer.
Dion’s ‘Blues With Friends ’is released by KTBA Records on June 5th. Pre-order the album from www.ktbarecords.com
- Bert Saraco
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