Dion Releases Incredible Blues Album

Blues With Friends features Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, John Hammond, Samantha Fish and other impressive guests

Dion DiMucci hasn’t exactly been on my radar screen. While I knew and have always liked his early ’60s hits like Runaround Sue and The Wanderer and was aware that he is revered among many artists, I simply didn’t follow him. I also had no idea that Dion had turned to the blues in more recent years – until Friday when I coincidentally came across his new album Blues With Friends, a true gem I could see win blues awards.

Released on June 5, the record features guests like Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer, Sonny Landreth and Samantha Fish. And the list goes on and on. If you’re cynical, you might say, ‘sure, we’ve seen this before, an aging rocker is getting some help from big name friends.’ But once you start listening to the album, this feels different.

To start with, Dion who is turning 81 years in just a little over a month on July 18, still has a compelling voice. He is not outshined by his formidable guests. It’s also noteworthy this record isn’t a collection of blues covers. These are 14 original songs, of which Dion co-wrote 13 tunes, mostly with Mike Aquilina.

And then there’s this excerpt from the liner notes: Dion knows how to sing, and he knows just the right way to craft these songs, these blues songs. 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. The author? Bob Dylan. I guess it’s time for some music!

Blues Comin’ On is the excellent opener featuring some sizzling slide guitar action by Joe Bonamassa. All of the tracks I’m highlighting in this post were co-written by Dion and Aquilina. This one has a Gary Moore feel!

Let’s move on to some rockabilly: Uptown Number 7. And who better to have as a guest guitarist on this one than Brian Setzer! “I wanted to write an old-fashioned gospel number in the style of the Golden Gate Quartet,” explains Dion in a press release. “I wanted this one to be about moving forward in the spiritual life… having a goal…facing temptations along the way. So, I put it all on a train, because that’s what New Yorkers do if they want to get anywhere: they take the train.”

One of the sonic highlights on the album, perhaps not surprisingly, is when Jeff Beck does his guitar magic: Can’t Start Over Again. “My earliest influences were country blues, especially Hank Williams,” explains Dion. “Any money I earned I took to the neighborhood record store, where the owner used to razz me about my “hillbilly” tastes. I guess I still have that hillbilly inside. For my last album I wrote a song called ‘I Can’t Go Back to Memphis,’ but I go back there with this number. It’s about love and loss and heartache, the classic themes. I believe it’s a true blues song.”

Next up: My Baby Loves to Boogie, featuring John Hammond on harmonica. “John Hammond and I go back to the ’60s at the Gaslight coffee house in Greenwich Village,” Dion points out. “I’ve always admired John. He’s a dear friend. I played him this song and he said he heard harp on it. Well, friends, now you could hear exactly what he was talking’ about. It sounds like ‘Boogie Beyond.'”

A particular moving and beautiful tune is Song For Sam Cooke (Here in America). “I wrote this tune back many years ago,” Dion recalls. “At first I just had the melody and the refrain ‘Here in America.’ A friend suggested I use an episode from my memoir about walking southern streets with Sam Cooke in 1962. I finished the song, but it felt too personal, so I put it aside. Then in 2019 I saw the movie Green Book and after that I couldn’t shake the song.” Sadly, the lyrics remain relevant in present-day America. Paul Simon proves to be a great guest to help bring the song to life. Here’s the official video for the tune.

I’d like to close with What If I Told You, a great tune featuring hot guitar work by Samantha Fish. “Same old story: suspicion,” comments Dion. “The challenge is to make it new and fresh and I think I did. If I put out the same amount of energy and emotion that Samantha Fish put into this song, I wouldn’t be able to walk for three weeks. EPIC!!!”

“I wanted an album of songs that were strong and memorable and told stories that were worth telling,” says Dion. “The blues have been at the heart of my music since the early 1960s. ‘The Wanderer’ is a twelve-bar blues and I was covering Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed in my early years at Columbia – much to the dismay of my corporate masters.”

Blues With Friends was produced by Wayne Hood and appears on Keeping The Blues Alive Records, a new label started by Joe Bonamassa and his manager Roy Weisman. It’s an offshoot of Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation, Bonamassa’s non-profit that aims to conserve the art of music and the rich culture and history of the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dion DiMucci website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Joe Bonamassa/A Conversation With Alice

I just came across this great brand new tune by Joe Bonamassa, A Conversation With Alice. As reported by Guitar World, the track is the first from a forthcoming British blues-rock studio album he recorded at Abbey Road Studios. As I found out after some digging, it was co-written by English blues and rock guitarist Bernie Marsden and Bonamassa.

Bonamassa is backed by The Sleep Eazys, an instrumental band featuring Anton Fig (drums), Reese Wynans (keyboards), Lee Thornburg (trumpet) and Paulie Cerra (saxophone). Michael Rhoades rounds out Bonamassa’s band on bass.

The new single comes right on the heels of Easy to Buy, Hard to Sell, an instrumental album Bonamassa and The Sleep Eazys released on April 10, apparently, as a tribute to guitarist Danny Gatton, one of Bonamassa’s mentors. I haven’t listened to that one yet.

A Conversation With Alice “is derived by an experience I had a couple years ago when some friends of mine intervened and said, ‘You know what Joe? You should go ahead and talk to someone about these problems you have that come up time and time again’,” Bonamassa told Guitar World.

“I went to see this lovely woman in Los Angeles, CA and began talking about my problems. After the second session I came to the conclusion that I was unrepairable and that the crazy in me makes me good at my job. I like being good at my job…I think I’m good at my job, unless you ask the internet. Which then there’s some debate, which bolsters the crazy. See how it’s all interrelated? So, I wrote a song about it.”

While I should probably listen to more of Bonamassa’s work to come to my own conclusion, I know one thing for sure: That new song friggin’ rocks, and I’ll be sure to look out for that forthcoming album. Since Guitar World didn’t mention anything else other than it’s scheduled for later this year, I assume Bonamassa hasn’t revealed any additional details yet. A Conversation With Alice is a great tease.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Booker T. Jones/Sound The Alarm

I dig the distinct sound of the Hammond B3 – just can’t get of enough it! Whether it’s used in blues, jazz, rock or even hard rock a la Deep Purple, to me it’s one of the greatest sounding music instruments I know. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, this won’t be exactly a new revelation. If you happen to be here for the first time and would like to read more about the B3, I invite you to check out this previous post from June 2017.

Undoubtedly, one of the music artists most closely associated with the legendary tone wheel organ is Booker T. Jones. I feel magic is happening when the man works those keys and drawbars. As I’m writing this, I can literally hear Greens Onions.  Jones wrote the tune’s distinct organ line when he was just 17. His band mates from the M.G.s helped put it all together, and it became their signature tune. Booker T. & the M.G.s, of course, were primarily known as the house band of Memphis soul label Stax. While I know and dig the music Jones helped create in the ’60s, until recently, I had not explored any of his work post Stax and the M.G.’s.

Booker T. & the M.G.s
Booker T. & The M.G.’s (from left): Al Jackson Jr., Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn

Booker T.’s solo debut Evergreen appeared in 1974, four years after he had severed ties with Stax and moved to Los Angeles. Sound The Alarm from June 2013 is his most recent solo work. It also marked Jones’ return to Stax since Melting Pot, the M.G.’s final album with the label in January 1971.

Sound The Alarm was co-produced by Jones and brothers Bobby Ross Avila and Issiah “IZ” Avila, who have worked with the likes of Usher, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliot. The album also features various collaborations with younger R&B artists. The result is an intriguing blend of Booker T.’s Hammond B3 and contemporary sounds.

Booker T. Jones

Here’s the groovy opener and title track. It’s one of eight tunes co-written by The Avila Brothers. The song features American multi-talented artist Andrew Mayer Cohen, known as Mayer Hawthorne, on vocals. To be clear, I had never heard of the 40-year-old from Los Angeles before, who in addition to being a singer is a producer, songwriter, arranger, audio engineer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist, according to Wikipedia.

Broken Heart features another contemporary artist, Jay James, who has a great soulful voice that blends beautifully with Jones’ warm Hammond sound. The tune was co-written by Jones, The Avila Brothers and Terry Lewis. Together with his song-writing and production partner James Samuel (Jimmy Jam), Lewis also co-produced the track

Next up: Austin City Blues. Of course I couldn’t skip a good ole blues! Penned by Jones, the instrumental features Gary Clark, Jr. on guitar. The Hammond and Clark’s electric guitar live in perfect harmony, to creatively borrow from a Paul McCartney ballad he recorded with Stevie Wonder in the early ’80s. “Gary and I have a real thing going on mentally, kind of like what I had with Steve Cropper in the MGs, really understanding each other,” Jones noted on his website.  “He really is in my corner.”

66 Impala is a cool, largely instrumental Latin jazz tune with an infectious Santana vibe, even though there’s no guitar. But you can easily imagine Carlos playing electric guitar lines in his signature style and tone on the track, which is another co-write by Jones and The Avila Brothers. Instead of Santana, it features two other big names: Poncho Sanchez and Sheila E on percussion and drums, respectively.

The last track I’d like to call out is the album’s closer Father Son Blues. The title of this Jones-written tune couldn’t be more appropriate. On guitar, the instrumental duo features Booker T.’s son Ted, who was 22 years old at the time of the recording. Apparently, Booker T. coincidentally had heard his son play at their house one day and at first mistakenly had assumed it was Joe Bonamassa. “I thought, ‘This is amazing,'” Jones noted. “‘you can have something right in front of your own nose and you don’t see it!’”

Commenting on the collaboration with The Avila Brothers, Jones said, “Bobby and I had previously done a little impromptu gig with El Debarge – that was the turning point when I decided to work with him. They have a different perspective about the musical palette. Their attitude is quite unique and quite innovative. That’s something I’ve looked for since I was maybe 13 or 14 years old and had figured out a little bit about music. It can be very predictable or it can be exploratory. I’m always looking for something new to do.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Booker T. Jones website, YouTube

 

Ladies Singing The Blues And Killing It – An Encore

Last October, I wrote about five outstanding female blues artists who may not be top of mind when thinking about the genre. I was reminded of this recently when fellow blogger Music Enthusiast included British blues rock guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor in one of his “New Music Revues” and during a discussion noted an increasing number of female guitarists nowadays, especially blues. This inspired me to do some more digging on female blues artists to see who else is out there. Here are three additional dynamite ladies singing the blues. They are also great guitarists. And none of them is from the U.S.

Dani Wilde

Dani Wilde (left in above picture) is a 33-year-old blues and country singer-songwriter from Hullavington, a village in Southwest England. In 2007, she signed with German independent record label Ruf Records and released her debut album Heal My Blues in January 2008. Six additional records featuring Wilde have since appeared, the most recent being Live At Brighton Road from June 2017. According to her website, Blues Blast Magazine called Wilde “a modern day British blues phenomenon” and the album “a treat for the ear and the eyes.” Over the past 10 years, Wilde has performed across Europe, America, Canada and Africa and shared tickets with artists like Johnny Winter, Robben Ford, Bobby Womack and Taj Mahal. Here’s Don’t Quit Me Baby from the above live album, a tune written by Wilde.

Ana Popović

Ana Popović (middle in above picture) is a blues guitarist and singer from Serbia, who was born in Belgrade in May 1976 (then Yugoslavia). According to Popović’s website, her father, a guitar and bass player with an impressive blues and soul collection, always invited friends for nightly jam sessions. Popović started playing guitar as a 15-year-old and four years later formed the band Hush. In 1998, she recorded her first album with Hush, Hometown. Shortly thereafter, Popović went to The Netherlands and started to study jazz guitar. The following year, she formed the Ana Popović Band there and decided to terminate her studies after signing a deal with Ruf Records. BTW, that label seems to do a great job with signing new blues artists. In early 2001, Popović’s solo debut Hush! came out. She has since released 10 additional albums. Popović and her six-piece band have shared stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa, among others. Here’s a great funky tune called Like It On Top, the title track from her latest album, which appeared last September and was co-produced by her and Keb’ Mo’. Co-written by the two, the track features Robben Ford on guitar.

Eliana Cargnelutti

Eliana Cargnelutti (right in above picture) is a 29-year-old guitarist and singer from Udine, Italy. According to her website, she graduated in jazz guitar at the conservatory “G. Frescobaldi” in Ferrara…is the new hope of Italian rock blues…and one of the rare real front women of the Italian scene.  She plays a flavor of rock blues with a bit of everything in between: electric funk, mixed with pop and jazzy instrumentals, raw rock, tight blues grooves, illuminated by her skills as an electric guitarist. In addition to various Italian blues artists, Cargnelutti has played with American artists like John Craig (guitarist of Ike & Tina Turner), Peter Stroud (guitarist of Sheryl Crow) and the Joe Pitts Band. To date she has released two solo albums: Love Affairs (November 2013) and Electric Woman (January 2015). She also appeared together with Sadie Johnson and Heather Crosse on Girls With Guitars, a record and tour project by yes, you guessed it right: Ruf Records. Here’s I’m A Woman, an original tune from Electric Woman – mamma mia!

With all this great music, I can’t help but think about Etta James’ line The blues is my business, and business is good. Still, when it comes to female blues artists, I feel they still don’t get the limelight they deserve. But with labels like Ruf Records and kick-ass artists such as the above, things seem to be changing.

Sources: Wikipedia, Dani Wilde website, Ana Popović website, Eliana Cargnelutti website, YouTube