Dion Dimucci is 80. Let me say that again. Dion, of ‘The Wanderer’ fame, is 80 years old. But you wouldn’t know it, listening to Blues With Friends. He is never betrayed by the quavering pipes of an old codger, but instead owns the songs with the delivery and phrasing of a guy who has kept his primary instrument in full working order.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this album. But like Topsy, Blues With Friends has growed and growed on me, and I suspect I’ll be returning to its charms on a regular basis. The tone is set well by the opening ‘Blues Comin’ On’, which shuffles along in easy-going fashion with Dion communicating the vibe perfectly. Meanwhile Joe Bonamassa does a sterling job as the first guest start turn, adding subtle moanin’ an’ groanin’ slide guitar that fits the character of the song. Then the following ‘Kickin’ Child’ is a bright but laid back affair that rolls along effortlessly like something from JJ Cale, with twinkling guitar embroidery from Joe Menza.
|Dion Dimucci - the smile that comes with a job well done|
Pic by David Godlis
These tracks set the tone for the guest guitar contributions that follow on the bluesy tracks that form the spine of the album. These range from the restrained but effective sparkle-and-twang Brian Setzer adds to the skipping ‘Uptown Number 7’, to the clear-toned Joe Louis Walker breaks that flit around the tune on the Van Morrison duet ‘I Got Nothin’’, the biting and gnawing Sonny Landreth slide on the swaggering ‘I Got The Cure’, and the hand-in-glove conversation between Dion and Samantha Fish’s wiry, expressive playing on ‘What If I Told You’. This last, in particular, is a blues tune that offers more than your common-or-garden melody, enhanced by Dimucci’s excellent phrasing.
But the departures from the soulful blues core hit the mark too. ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ may be adorned with some exquisite guitar filigrees from Jeff Beck, but it’s the song that really catches the ear, a simple slice of Americana that Dion interprets beautifully. ‘Stumbling Blues’, regardless of its title and reliance on a blues progression, sounds like Great American Songbook fare, as Dion croons his way through the lilting, woozy closing time vibe to the hazy accompaniment of Jerry Vivino’s sax. ‘Song For Sam Cooke (Here In America)’ is an acoustic-led singer-songwriter style duet with Paul Simon on which their voices combine delightfully, complemented by graceful violin breaks from a party I’m not able to credit right now. And ‘Told You Once In August’ is an absorbing, stripped down folk blues on which John Hammond and Rory Block interweave chiming and moaning acoustic slide over a simple beat, and Block adds some minimalist but spot-on backing vocals.
Not everything is perfect. ‘Bam Bang Boom’, on which Billy Gibbons guests, feels like it needs a kick in the ass in order to get going, though the groove does generate some toe-tapping in the end. And the Christian folk leanings of ‘Hymn To Him’ leave me cold, regardless of its pretty tune and the involvement of Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen.
But hey, the strike rate of the material on Blues With Friends is mightily impressive. Producer Wayne Hood deserves credit too, for the simple, uncluttered sound of the album, and for drawing all those guest contributions into a coherent whole. The end result is the kind of relaxed but polished affair that’s perfect for kicking back with a beer and chilling out.
I think Bob Dylan puts it best though. He doesn’t appear on the album, but he does contribute to the liner notes. "Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs,” says Bob. “He’s got some friends here to help him out, some true luminaries. But in the end, it’s Dion by himself alone, and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these Blues songs with him." Yeah, what he said.
Blues With Friends is released by KTBA Records on 5 June, and is available for pre-order at KTBArecords.com.