GROOVES & CUTS – John Apice
There are a few grandfathers of rock & roll that require revisiting. Late as it is these miraculous artists still record fresh material, still perform as if the years have no effect, or rather more appropriately, don’t matter.
First is 81-year-old Dion DiMucci. This legendary singer recreated himself a few times as Bobby Darin did. Starting as a doo-wop singer with The Belmont’s, then a pop-rock singer with the classic Laurie Records’ “The Wanderer,” “Runaround Sue,” & then Columbia 45s: “Ruby Baby,” & “Donna the Prima Donna,” up to his pivotal folk era: “Abraham Martin & John.” But, when I bought that last single, it was the flipside “Daddy Rollin’” that made me believe something was percolating.
Dion was sidelined by a drug phase, then a religious musical transformation & since 1989’s Yō Frankie he unleashed the masterful Springsteen-like edge of “King of the New York Streets.” The Dion dynamic pushed along with backing vocals by an admirer — the late Lou Reed. This man wasn’t going away. Elvis was rock n’ roll rebellion; Bobby Darin had Bronx swagger & Dion – well, he had the Bronx attitude. Except for the 85-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis who has slowed considerably, Dion’s out there making fiery music.
Beginning with Bronx In Blue, (2006) up to last year’s Blues with Friends (2020), Dion’s been exploring blues seriously & with class to the point where he became the man to watch. These CDs filled with blues classics performed with authenticity & rendered to be appreciated in the spirit in which they were made. Son of Skip James, (2007) — followed, its blues blistered paint on old Oldsmobile’s out in the Delta sun. The guitars, piano, vocals, & tight groove provided richness that left showboating out in the muddy swamp & allowed atmosphere & feeling to drift like the scent of honeysuckle. “I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I could kick your ass.” What?
Tankful of Blues (2011), New York Is My Home (2016) – featured the first duet with Paul Simon. By 2020 Dion attracted the attention of notable players. His latest LP includes an all-star performance cast. Jeff Beck, Van Morrison & Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Setzer, Sonny Landreth, John Hammond, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, & Rory Block among others. If Covid-19 dissipates, Dion plays live this summer. Blues with Friends — is already a classic modern-day CD from a man who came from the original R&R era. The last man standing.
With 17 renown artists sharing his spotlight Dion’s signature voice & musical attitude rises above it with clarity. A live rehearsal video with Paul Simon (“Song for Sam Cooke”) captures the excellence of a performance with a false start rectified immediately:
Another master of career longevity & hits who still records & performs is 79-year-old, Chubby Checker. Not in the R&R Hall of Fame despite chart records over many who are. The singer of the legendary “The Twist,” still sells-out venues wherever he performs (& continues to chart).
In 1982 Checker signed with major label MCA Records. Cut a Springsteen-oriented hi-energy LP The Change Has Come with blistering sax runs, tight drums, aggressive backup vocals (“Burn Up the Night” & “Running”). But it did no business. MCA didn’t know how to promote a new Chubby Checker.
Checker was dismayed when a fan at a live show asked for a song from this LP. Checker said — man, these people don’t want to hear nothing new from me. Later he’d chart again with “Knock Down the Walls,” (2008) & again with “Changes” (2013).
From his country LP “Texas Twist,” – largely ignored. The buried Checker jewel is a rousing fiddle country tune that Reba McIntyre should perform with Checker live. From his country LP “Texas Twist,” – largely ignored — is a 7-minute “Take Me Back to Oklahoma.” A backwoods romp where Checker’s powerful voice effectively proves how good a country singer he’d be. “Rowdy Country Boys Like Me,” is another surprise. Chubby possesses one of the instantly recognizable voices in popular music.
Possessing one of the most instantly recognizable voices in popular music Checker was no stranger to folk/country. He produced confidently the catchy 1962 tune “Twenty Miles.” I think at his age Checker should next try the blues — and join Dion.
More of these types of buried treasures next month.
SPILLED MERCURY: UK singer-songwriter/guitarist Sarah McQuaid is set to release new tracks in 2021 but has advanced a new single & video that begins with a piano-driven moody melody reminiscent of the classic deep English-folk voice of June Tabor — “The Silence Above Us.” The song will be live on The St. Buryan Sessions. A beautiful song originally released in 2018 & sampled here.
Produced with a real old-fashion tinge is Austin’s The Armadillo Paradox – a duo, (Sol Chase & Jared Huskey). “Out of Gas in Oil Country,” (CD drops March 26th) is filled with smooth bluegrass with infectious fiddle, steady percussion, vintage-type vocals that pulls traditional styling from the past – effectively. The single out now — “Your Eyes Are Like Stars.”
Lia Ices releases Family Album on Jan 29. It’s her 4th LP & this was promoted as psychedelic-tinged Americana. I don’t hear it. This is beautiful female vocalizing with a heavy dose of musical drama excellently presented, with violins, heavy bass, slide guitar, piano, electric piano, organ & added effects of vocalese. If she pulled back a bit & concentrated on piano Ms. Ices would approach a Judee Sill showcase (Sill’s known for her poignant & excellent “Jesus Was a Crossmaker” & “The Kiss”) – but with Ms. Ices’ “Our Time” she indeed is vivid lyrically & as cohesive as the late Ms. Sill.
There are many compelling melodies like “Earthy,” “Hymn,” “Beauty Blue” on this LP. All instantly memorable & quite likable. The effort is supposedly environmentally influenced. Perhaps she should’ve performed more acoustically pure rather than loading up on some occasional electro-tints (“Anywhere at All”). But, I admit, Lia produced the majority of the songs admirably with a touch of Jane Siberry in mind.
With an EP set for later this year singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Plankenhorn has released his co-write with Gabriel Rhodes: “Murder of Crows,” with power, acoustic clarity, & swampy underpinnings.
In a more traditional vocal style & with Vince Gill/Del McCoury bluegrass paint, Justin Moses’ provides superb vocals, fiddles, banjo, acoustic guitar & solid songs. His picking prowess on the title song “Fall Like Rain” is a musical freight-train of expertise. Already available, the 10 tracks could be one of the year’s best.
A heads-up: Vintage style country, bluegrass, roots music is clearly being produced by some youngsters who have interpreted the music with surprising modern excellence. Born in Italy Cristina Vane’s 12-track debut Nowhere Sounds Lovely is solid, with generous amounts of slow-burn blues. Set for April 2nd – a full Americana Highways review will post then. This also sounds like a winner.
CDs/Downloads can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.