Dion Francis Dimucci, to use his full name, needs no introduction…after achieving numerous hits over the years (The Wanderer and Runaround Sue for example) he has just released a new album that is rooted in the blues that has always underpinned his work. Blues With Friends is the descriptive title and what friends the man has! Numerous blues and rock luminaries flocked to help him including Joe Bonamassa (whose record label it is released through) was eager to help and, in Dion’s own words: “Joe’s contribution inspired me to invite others to play, and that, my friends, is how this album came about.” He even has Bob Dylan writing the introduction in the CD booklet!
With that degree of acknowledgement of his standing in the music world, it’s no wonder that the fourteen Dion co-writes that appear have a depth, a power and a feel of something special. Also worthy of note is how those stellar guests ensure Dion is always centre stage and they all compliment the compositions in their own inimitable way while leaving you in no doubt that this album is all about Dion…and rightly so.
Opening with Blues Comin’ On, this is, fittingly perhaps, the Bonamassa contribution and his superb slide adds to the rock ’n’ roll shuffle while Dion shows his voice still has that warmth and character he brings to all he touches. It has comforting, familiar feel but it quickly establishes itself in you mind, becomes aural sex and that slide is majestic. Kickin’ Child features Joe Menza (not only does he play a mean guitar here and in the Menza Madison Band, he owns the Best Guitars in New York site…envious? Moi?!) It’s a rerecording of an older song with a bit of soul buried in it. Joe puts in some lovely phrasing throughout as Dion does a grand job with the vocal and the guitar solo is understated, fitting and very, very good. Uptown Number 7 with Brian Setzer (he of Stray Cats fame) has gospel roots although the tremolo work of Brian lifts it into wonderful blues territory and put a Cats feel to Dion’s vocal.
Can’t Start Over Again brings Jeff Beck (he of pure genius!) into play. Jeff has been a mainstay to my listening and guitar envy for many years…his touch is beyond belief as he yet again demonstrates on this country flavoured song. Jeff’s technique means he can make his Strat sound like almost anything…here it has a lap steel sound and the solo echoes the words and speaks just as lucidly. My Baby Loves To Boogie with John Hammond (he of many, many fine blues albums since 1963) adding understated harmonica layers to the boogie of Wayne Hood and Dion. I Got Nothin’ brings in the pairing of Van Morrison (he of Them and so much more, including a Knighthood in 2015) on, of course, vocals and Joe Louis Walker (he of the encyclopaedic blues knowledge and albums going back to 1986) on guitar…this is a true blues song of the highest order with the three main protagonists playing a blinder…Van’s vocals are distinctive and, although recorded remotely in County Down, he brings that extra dimension he seems to summon effortlessly. Joe Louis’ guitar is sensitive, apt, and phenomenal throughout…a marvellous song. Stumbling Blues brings brothers Jimmy and Jerry Vivino (they of guitar and saxophone respectively, and numerous performances across the US) into play and they combine very well with Dion on this classic blues structure. It has a smoky jazz feel to with the languid swing of the percussion and the sax and guitar add to the atmosphere as Dion does a sort of Frank Sinatra on the vocal melody.
Bam Bang Boom is the fitting name for Billy Gibbons (he of the beard and, of course, ZZ Top) to bring his oft-overlooked sensitivity to this mid-paced blues rock song. Listen out too for Wayne’s genius bass lines too as it adds such heft to the backline. I Got The Cure features Sonny Landreth (he of the sublime slide and many fine albums) and he brings that effortless and superb slide style to this blues tune that has accurate electronic brass too…but it is Sonny that makes this so good. Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America) has Paul Simon (he of that duo and many solo albums) using his style to great effect on this story of “walking Southern streets with Sam Cooke in 1962”.
What If I Told You brings beauty and youth into the mix in the shape of Samantha Fish (she of the uncanny blues talent on any guitar…check her playing the cigar box!); she isn’t bowed or overshadowed by the august company and adds some stunning work to put the emotion of the song into her playing. Told You Once In August brings together John Hammond and Rory Block (she of a beautiful, truly solo, solo album as well as many more releases) who also plays bass and sings. Incidentally, even though their styles of slide playing are quite distinctive, the CD notes kindly tell us that John is the right channel and Rory the left. Regardless, they are both superb and bring so much to this brilliant almost folky blues song. Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More) stars Stevie Van Zandt (he of the E Street Band and the Sopranos amongst so much more) may be just under three minutes but he crams a lot of feeling into every note and makes this blues song just that little bit different and special. Hymn To Him has partners Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen (she of the E Street Band and married to that other bloke!) joining in on this gospel song from Dion’s 1987 Velvet And Steel album. Patti adds tension and emotion with her haunting vocals and Bruce does a decent job on lead guitar.
This is an exceptional album with so many distinguished artists showing that Dion is as relevant today as he’s ever been. There are some truly fantastic songs and performances here and it needs numerous listens to fully appreciate the skills and subtleties of the guests. It may not set the world alight but it is like welcoming an old friend home when it spins up…give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
Bluesdoodles rating: a Wonderful addition to any collection and essential for fans of any of the guests as well as the inimitable Dion.
Tracklisting and guests:
- Blues Comin’ On – Joe Bonamassa
- Kickin’ Child – Joe Menza
- Uptown Number 7 – Brian Setza
- Can’t Start Over Again – Jeff Beck
- My Baby Loves To Boogie – John Hammond
- I Got Nothin’ – Van Morrison and Joe Louis Walker
- Stumbling Blues – Jimmy and Jerry Vivino
- Bam Bang Boom – Billy Gibbons
- I Got The Cure – Sonny Landreth
- Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America) – Paul Simon
- What If I Told You – Samantha Fish
- Told You Once In August – John Hammond and Rory Block
- Way Down (I Won’t Cry No More) – Stevie Van Zandt
- Hymn To Him – Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen
All songs written by Dion and Mike Aquilina, except Kickin’ Child by Dion and Buddy Lucas and Hymn To His by Dion and Bill Tuohy
Musicians:Dion: vocals, guitars
Wayne Hood: guitars, bass, Wurlitzer electric piano, hammond organ, drums
Produced by Wayne Hood and Dion