When I played the New York Irish bar circuit in the 80s and 90s doing oldies and classic rock, the songs that went over the best always included some of Dion’s hits, especially “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue.” With and without The Belmonts, the Bronx’s Dion DiMucci had a raft of hits from the late 50s to the late 60s. Going beyond doo-wop cliches, the songs were such raw and spirited fun that they’ve remained popular to this day, and in 1989, Dion was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
So we always knew Dion could write great songs. And we always knew he could sing. But did we know he could sing traditional blues? And did we know he played a mean guitar? No sir, we did not. Introducing Dion, the bluesman. Far from the vanity project one might have feared — especially given the song choices, many of which have iconic versions — the man’s new acoustic blues CD is a joy. Without trying to sound self-consciously authentic, accompanied only by his own acoustic guitars and a percussionist, he tackles hoary standards like “Crossroads,” “Who Do You Love,” “Built For Comfort”, and “Walkin’ Blues” with skill, gusto, and humility. His voice and attitude are clear and strong but also seem wise and experienced. His sense of fun is undiminished, as shown by the double-entendre original “I Let My Baby Do That.”
What this CD shows is that a street poet is a street poet, whether from the Deep South or the Bronx. “Black music, filtered through an Italian neighborhood, comes out with an attitude,” says Dion. “Rock & Roll. The music on this CD was the undercurrent of every song I did … even the foot stomping on ‘Ruby Baby’ I got from John Lee Hooker’s ‘Walkin’ Boogie.'”
The liner notes provide background on each of the selections, so a blues neophyte could get a bit of an education from the package as well. But whether you’re an oldies fan, a blues fan, or both, get this CD because it’s just plain good. Then play it for your musically knowledgeable friends and make them try to guess who it is.