It was quite a surprise in 2020 when the then 80 year old Dion Dimucci, who had pop radio hits in the late 50’s with his street-corner harmony crew, the Belmonts, and solo rock & roll classics like “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer,” showed up with a new blues album featuring a host of some of the world’s most beloved guitar talents. Blues With Friends featured the sure-voiced singer interacting with the likes of Jeff Beck, Billie Gibbons (ZZ Top), Brian Setzer (Stray Cats), and Joe Bonamassa, and singers like Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa, and Paul Simon. Returning with another album’s worth of original blues songs, Dion follows the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule to a T.
Like last time, most of the songs here are co-written by Dimucci with Mike Aquilina, and address many of the basic blues’ themes: “I got it bad, and that ain’t good, but here’s a song about that I bet you love.” And again, it works. There are those critics of the blues that denounce the form for its repetitive nature and the musical simplicity of the basic chord structure – similar arguments have been made about rock & roll, punk, and hip-hop, since their early beginnings – but these jabs often fail to account for the multi-generational appeal of this music, and the fact that it’s the fact that a standard 12 bar blues feels redundant after all this time, but what matters most is what actually you do with those 12 bars.
Billy Gibbons returns to join Dion on the kicking title track, which includes a strong horn section, and Scialfa and Springsteen make a return appearance the for the gospel choir driven “Angel In The Alleyways.” Slide guitarist Sonny Landreth and Bonamassa also make another appearance, both playing in their own style. But a lot of what makes “Stomping Ground” such a smart addition comes from those artists new to Dion’s enterprise. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Peter Frampton step up with their own unique guitar tones, Pianist Steve Conn brings a fun twist with his New Orleans’ style, rock & rolling approach on “That’s What The Doctor Said,” a shout out to the late, great Dr. John. Keb’ Mo’ plays slide on the one track here, not written by Dion, “Red House,” the original blues written by Jimi Hendrix. Eric Clapton leans into Dion’s “If You Wanna Rock & Roll,” while Marcia Ball brings more rock & roll piano and horns to “I Got My Eyes on You Baby,” with Jimmy Vivino adding some spicy guitar. Boz Scaggs joins Dion for “I’ve Got to Get to You,” with Joe Menza, who also plays on “The Night Is Young,” and his son Mike on guitars. Given his advanced age, it’s probably worth pointing out that Dion is still in great voice So, essentially this is more of what worked so well last time, proving that the blues really is Dion’s Stomping Ground.
Key Tracks: “Dancing Girl” with Mark Knopfler / “Cryin’ Shame” with Sonny Landreth / “There Was a Time” with Peter Frampton
Artists With Similar Fire: B.B. King / Billy Gibbons / Keb’ Mo’
Dion Review History: Blues With Friends (2020)