Album review: DION – Blues With Friends

DION - Blues With Friends

Keeping The Blues Alive Records [Release date 05.06.20]

Dion Francis Dimucci is a genuine legend of modern popular music culture. Scoring no fewer than thirty-nine Top 40 hits running from the late 1950’s to the mid 1960’s, including the classics ‘Runaround Sue’ and ‘The Wanderer’, his soulful and incredibly strong voice ringing out from every radio in the land. Things hit a temporary speedbump between ’65 and ’68 but then he found his mojo again and really hasn’t looked back since, developing from his original identity as the poppy do-wop artist through to his more recent blues-soaked material. As befits a giant of his stature, when noted musician/producer Dave Edmunds announced the all-star collaboration album ‘Yo Frankie’ coming out to relaunch Dimucci’s return to rock music in 1989 the buzz was off the scale. Fast forward thirty-one years and another star-studded release is now with us and it shows that Dion is arguably better than ever, his voice not diminished one iota but, in fact, more glorious than at his commercial peak.

From the opening notes of ‘Blues Comin’ On’ you know that you’re absolutely in the right place as Joe Bonamassa’s guitar sings out and is joined by Dion’s wonderfully warm and characterful tones, the rock ‘n’ roll shuffle hitting the spot dead centre. The vocals are full of the swagger of old and a real lived-in quality that connects so very clearly with the material as the guitar master creates his own magic. It speaks volumes about the respect that the guests on the album have for Dion as they just step back and let the master do what he does best, never trying to overshadow him but happy to step back and compliment the music with their own stylings over the fourteen tracks.

‘Uptown No 7’ is a huge amount of fun, a rockabilly romp that sees Brian Setzer join the party as he brings his distinctive guitarwork to proceedings, tasty, sexy and characterful. The tender side of Dion is shown on the ballad ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ and the accompanying tasteful and delicate playing by Jeff Beck provides the perfect foil for the singer’s rich vocals before the Southern Fried goodness of ‘My Baby Loves to Boogie’ sees him matched with John Hammond. All these various facets of the blues sparkle like a pure cut diamond in the sun as more and more guests join him as the album rolls on and when Dion sings ‘’I can make the magic happen’’ on ‘I Got Nothin’’ with Van Morrison and Joe Louis Walker you have no choice but to agree.

Billy Gibbons brings his effortless supercool to the slow boogie of ‘Bam Bang Boom’ whilst ‘I Got the Cure’ sees Sonny Landreth joining in for some strident, horns filled, modern blues. Paul Simon adds wonderful accompaniment to the gentle acoustic lullaby of ‘Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)’ and the list goes on and on. Whoever thought of bringing in Samantha Fish to add her note perfect superb six string talents to match Dion’s New York attitude is a genius and ‘Told You Once in August’ has a great folky, Ry Cooder, feel thanks to the great slide work that brings to mind the Everglades due to the superb support of John Hammond and Rory Block.

The album closes with the powerful one two punch of the bouncy rock ‘n’ roll drenched with soul of ‘Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More)’ that has Stevie Van Zandt having a ball before his long term bandmates Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen join Dion in the haunting gospel folk of ‘Hymn to Him’. It’s a suitably pensive and incandescently beautiful way to end an album that captures all that’s truly great about this man who has made such a huge impression on the music industry for so many decades. Often imitated but never bettered, Dion DiMucci is still at the very top of his game and ‘Blues with Friends’ is solid gold proof of that. Absolutely indispensable. ****1/2

Review by Paul Monkhouse

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