wed 15/07/2020

Album: Dion - Blues With Friends | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Dion - Blues With Friends

Album: Dion - Blues With Friends

The Wanderer returns to his roots

Dion: purchase immediately

As news bulletins compare events in America to 1968, the mental jukebox spins almost inevitably to “Abraham, Martin and John”, first recorded by Dion – the price of a new record contract after he‘d got clean and split from The Belmonts. It’s not the best known version (that’s Marvin Gaye’s) but it made No 4 on the US charts and relaunched Dion’s career.

It’s a career that's gone through several phases, like that of his old friend Bob Dylan, who wrote the liner notes to Blues With Friends and with whom he shares a religious period. These past couple of decades Dion’s been rocking with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon, both of whom are on this all-star album that bursts with energy and excitement and carries you to some place else.

It was Columbia’s John Hammond, legendary producer of Billie Holiday and Dylan, who introduced Dion to classic blues, and everything comes full circle when his son, also John Hammond, joins him on “My Baby Loves to Boogie”. The two men played the Gaslight in the 1960s heyday of Greenwich Village – indeed, most of those joining Dion here have links to the Village. Since his first hits 63 years ago, Dion has played with rock’s greatest names. If he’d had the readies back in 1959 he’d have hitched a ride on Buddy Holly’s plane as the Winter Dance Party headed to its next date. Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens never made it, and their deaths weighing heavy on a teenager named Robert Zimmerman, who’d been transfixed by one of their last gigs.

Dion’s been working on Blues for Friends for four years and the songs are all originals, some re-imagined from earlier recordings, most co-written with Mike Aquilina, an author of heavyweight books on Christian theology who writes poetry and songs in his spare time. (Dion has returned to his Catholic roots and runs a prison ministry.) It’s a keeper, an album of passion and intensity that grabs you and won’t let you go, from the first notes of the title track, Joe Bonamassa’s slide guitar to the fore, to the meditative “Hymn to Him” with Patti Scialfa and Springsteen on background vocals and guitar, respectively.

It’s beautifully paced, the hard-driving train rhythm of “Uptown Number 7”, Brian Setzer playing lead and rhythm, giving way to the slower country blues of “Can’t Start Over Again”, Jeff Beck on lead, fiddles adding a cushion of sound. Jerry Vivino’s sax is a stand-out on the classic-style “Stumbling Blues”, brother Jimmy on lead guitar. The inimitable Rory Block plays slide, bass and guitar, and sings on “Told You Once in August”, John Hammond chiming in again.

The most poignant cut, as America burns, is “Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)”, Paul Simon singing a lyric that recalls Dion and Cooke hanging out in the segregated south in 1962. It’s beautifully constructed, musically and lyrically, deftly alluding to Cooke’s own work. His 1964 shooting was adjudged a “justifiable homicide”. Is a change ever gonna come?

We all do feel the blues comin’ some one of these days. Blues With Friends will get you through. Buy it immediately.

The most poignant cut, as America burns, is 'Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)'

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Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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