Album: New York Is My Home
Label: Instant Records
Release Date: 11/13/2015
Sixties’ heartthrob Dion DiMucci has never stopped making music, evolving as he goes. From doo-wop to a string of rock megahits like “Runaround Sue” to ’68 folkie million-seller “Abraham, Martin and John,” in recent years the iconic singer has transitioned yet again, into the blues, first with 2006’s remarkable Bronx in Blue (stripped down to Dion’s wonderful vocals and unheralded but prodigious guitar chops), and now with New York Is My Home, a celebration of his hometown’s musical diversity (with a heavy dose of the blues).
The man covers a lot of ground in ten tracks. Opening with Chicago-style electric blues, the second cut is Delta blues, replete with slide guide and an unforgettable hook. The third and title track brought the Dictators’ guitarist Scott Kempner together with Dion and Mike Aquilina as songwriters, and added another quintessential New Yorker, Paul Simon, to lay down guitar, harmonica and vocals. Track four, “The Apollo King,” is an homage to Chuck Berry—another of the five songs Dion co-wrote with Mike Aquilina, a Catholic theology scholar who also happened to co-write the book Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth (Stories, Humor & Music). The only two covers on the record are from bluesmen Lightnin’ Hopkins and Hudson Whittaker, and the one song authored by Dion alone, “Ride With You,” is a rocker, as infectious as they come.
The wide net Dion casts is held together by his great vocals and compelling musicality. Hardly a laid-back performer, Dion’s choices here consistently draw the listener in, demanding a shoulder-wagging, toe-tapping response to the songs and his excellent rhythm guitar. I convinced myself I needed to listen to a few tracks again and again before writing this up, but it was an excuse. Mea culpa.
A fair amount of credit for the consistently-good but varied sound belongs to producer Jimmy Vivino, who the public knows as the bandleader of TV’s Conan O’Brien Show and the leader of the Fab Faux, the national Beatles cover band, but who every damned musician on the planet knows as the consummate professional. Vivino dug into his network and brought in pals James Wormworth on drums and Mike Merritt on bass to form an irresistible rhythm section. Both men have worked with Vivino since early on, from the old Manny’s Car Wash house band to the current Basic Cable Band; Merritt was on bass when Vivino, as bandleader, revived drummer Levon Helm’s career. Vivino appears on this CD playing all keyboards, lead and rhythm guitar, and contributing background vocals. He’s one busy guy.
All told, this solid album hits all the right notes. Welcome back, Dion, and thanks for bringing us along again, on your adventurous road.
– Suzanne Cadgène