CD release date 30 April 2001 - CDCHD 791
bonus track Doctor Rock 'N Roll single version.
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SIT DOWN OLD FRIEND / YOU'RE NOT ALONE Ace CDCHD 791 (released 2001)
Review copyright 2001 Doug Schenker
Dion was signed to Warner Bros. (WB) in 1969 for a ten-album deal. In the year or so prior to this, he had three chart singles (including a top 5 gold record) and a charting album on Laurie Records. From late 1969 (“Natural Man”) to mid 1977 (“Young Virgin Eyes”) Dion would not be as successful on the charts with the major Warner Bros. label as he had been on the independent Laurie label. However, Dion DiMucci put out some fine records for WB. Dion said, “The Warner Bros. albums were almost like a real diary. They were like therapy for me.” (From Li’l Art’s Poker Party cable access TV show in late 1988).
The first album under the new contract was Sit Down Old Friend (SDOF), which was produced by Phil Gernhard in 1969 at United Recording Studio in Hollywood, California, and released in January 1970. The original LP cover shows Dion with a moustache, longish out of control hair, bare-shouldered in a tank top, with an acoustic guitar. He’s wearing wire rim glasses, jeans, boots, and finger picks. This does not look like the 1960s Dion. This album is unique, because Dion plays the sole accompaniment on classical and steel string guitars. There is no bass or percussion or vocal harmony on SDOF. Dion created the arrangements and did some overdubbing of a second guitar in places. His playing works well, except on “Jammed Up Blues” where the guitar riff in 6/8 time becomes boring with repeated listenings.
On the SDOF album Dion mixes blues and ballads effortlessly. He wrote four songs and co-wrote four songs (three of those with Tony Fasce). The overall message of this album is love. There is spiritual love (“Natural Man”, “Let Go Let God” “Sit Down Old Friend” and “If We Only Have Love”), sexual love (“I Don’t Believe My Race Is Run”) and familial love of his daughter (“Little Pink Pony” and “Just A Little Girl”).
The lyrics are mostly good to excellent. “Natural Man” (by Dick Holler) is the story of a modern Jesus in 1970 with the lyric “cracking the seams in conformity’s beams, with a message so old it was new.” My favorite lyric on the album was written by Dion in his song “Let Go Let God”, “Sometimes a flower gets caught in the city in the rain. Gets pushed and it’s shoved ‘til it’s lost in a shadow of pain”. Dion ends the SDOF album with the title song whose last line says it all, “in the end there is nothing but love.” A perfect summation to an album that’s pretty close to perfect.
The next section of the twofer is the You’re Not Alone (YNA) album which was produced by Phil Gernhard in 1970-71 at Electric Lady Studios in NYC and Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida. It was released in March 1971. This album has a similar message of love, but with an expanded musical palette. Here subtle bass, drums, organ, guitar, strings, flute, horns and steel drums join Dion’s acoustic guitar. The only time the instrumentation is not subtle is on the “The Stuff I Got” (“TSIG”), which sticks out like a sore thumb lyrically and musically. It is the only song on YNA that rocks, and the lyrics are lewd (“The stuff I got little girl gonna bust your brains out”), which is at odds with the beautiful tender lyrics on the rest of the album.
On the SDOF album Dion covered Willie Dixon (“You Can’t Judge A Book By the Cover”) and Jacques Brel (“If We Only Have Love”). On YNA he covers Melanie and the Beatles. The Melanie song “Close To It All” opens the album and asks the listener to “tear down the walls” that keep us apart. Dion does a nice job on the two Beatles songs, both written by Paul McCartney. “Let It Be” sounds hymn-like. On “Blackbird” it’s just Dion on acoustic guitar. This one would have worked on SDOF. Dion’s songwriting collaboration with Tony Fasce blossomed and unfortunately ended on this album (with the exception of “Lover Boy Supreme” which may have been written at this time). On the album after this (Sanctuary) Dion basically didn’t have a co-writer. The DiMucci-Fasce songs on this album (as well as “Your Own Back Yard”) are excellent. This album marks the first appearance of Bill Tuohy, who will go on to become Dion’s main co-writer. I consider the five songs that follow “Close To It All” to be a subtle suite, a slow trip for the senses. It starts in “Sunniland” (by DiMucci-Fasce), with steel drums suggested by Tony Fasce, played beautifully by Victor Brady. Dion sings about being sorry for the lies he told Susan (Suzanne in the song) and thanks her for his life. This is followed by “Windows” (by DiMucci-Tuohy). On a wonderful bed of sound featuring guitar and organ, the lines “if her eyes were only like windows” and “little mirrors of shy delight” stand out. Then there is “The Visitor” (by DiMucci-Fasce-Tuohy) with a shadow and light dream story (“the moon lies deep in velvet, while uncertain flowers bloom and a cloud wafts out of heaven towards the window of your room…through a tranquil sea of darkness in the shadows of your sleep stirs a long forgotten passion trembling fever rumbling deep”). Then the “suite” continues with “Peaceful Place” that ends with the line “let it be”. Which leads into the next song, which is “Let It Be”. Dion & Tony Fasce wrote the last two songs on the album, “Josie” and “Attraction Works Better Than Promotion” (“AWBTP”). “Josie” is a great story song, “Remember the garden you once walked to put your troubled mind at ease. Well, it is gone now to buildings, they even took the cypress tree. The cinders take the place of fallen leaves”. It took me a long time to understand “AWBTP”. It is a plea for non-violence. The message is if you want peace, act in a peaceful way. Don’t burn down buildings. Don’t fight in demonstrations. There are a lot of lyrics that stand out in this song but I’ll note these, “To you who want to prepare, nothing is stronger than a prayer”.
YNA is a powerful album marred by the inclusion of “TSIG”. The bonus track should have been the 1970 single “Your Own Back Yard”, which has similar instrumentation to the YNA album. Since Phil Spector chose that single to be on the 1975 Born To Be With you album, it is not here. Instead the fun, up-tempo, 1973 single “Doctor Rock and Roll” is included.
Dion said “I probably had too much freedom, because I recorded a big hit. Warner Bros. gave me a contract for ten albums. So there was really not enough pressure. No one was looking at me, so I was just doing anything. I was…rehearsing. Putting albums together like sketches. And I wasn’t used to making albums” (Goldmine March 2001 issue). Despite this disclaimer, Dion started off his stint at Warner Bros. doing fine work. This twofer belongs in the collection of every fan of good music.
Sit Down Old Friend
Producer(s): none listed
Warner Bros. WS 1826 (S)
Dion, formerly one of the brightest of early rock stars, came into his own as a performer for today with "Abraham Martin and John." Here, in his first album for Warner Bros., he goes the complete folk route, a course that suits him well as "Sweet Pea" and the meaningful "Let Go, Let God" demonstrates. "King Con Man" is a good blues cut, while "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" is first rate in uptempo style.
You're Not Alone
Producer(s): none listed
Warner Bros. WS 1872 (S)
The complete and positive tranformation of Dion as a sensitive and creative singer/writer is well in evidence in his latest LP. Among his own songs, the best are "Sunniland," "Windows," and "Attraction Works Better than Promotion," and he interprets beautifully one of Melanie's earliest and best songs, "Close To It All."
THE NEW York subway rattled to a halt at a Bronx station. Four young men climbed aboard, sat down, pulled copies of sheet music from their pockets and started to harmonise a current hit.
This was an early introduction to the public of the vocal style of Dion and The Belmonts. The ,BeImonts have a natural aptitude for music and a special feeling for each song. Handsome, curly haired Dion, 19, leader of the group . . . " (E.M.I. press release, August 1960).
Like most people in their mid-twenties with an interest in rock music I grew up with Dion and I feel kind of proprietary about him. Ruby Baby " to me goes hand in hand with adolescent masturbation, Clearsil, Silvikrined quiffs (but definitely post-Brylcreem), and hanging around on the corner under the dim light of the gas lamp watching the progress of a scrap (Okay, it wasn't the Bronx but it was home).
The early sixties, that period which ended with the emergence of the Beatles (and the combed-forward hairstyle, don't forget) can he looked on, in terms of rock geography, as a stagnant pool. The only people worth listening to were The Miracles, Del Shannon and Dion. He had got the GI blues, Buddy had bought his, Jerry Lee and Chuck were in disfavour, and R. Penniman was swinging the in sense.
No, it had to be Dion out of the Americans, and if we were going to be chauvinistic there was only Johnny Kidd who made it at all this side of the water. Rernember " Runaround Sue," Donna The Prima Donna (one of Dion's two sisters was called Donna, you know), " Little Diane," " Sandy ' It was like flipping through your dating book. Then there was that poignant summation of self pity, "The Wanderer." all tight pants, winkle pickers and slouching moodily past the penny arcade at the .fair. Boy, does that bring back the smell of candy floss and doughnuts' And then, of course, the Fab Four came along and we all , started to say "y'no" and "grotty". and Hello Goodbye." The Beatles were to say it all later on.
1 have to admit right now that 1 never thought he would come back; most of 'em don't, you have to agree (whatever happened, for instance, to Doug Sheldon who covered " Runaround Sue "?). Probably Dion, in his heart of hearts, might own up now to a feeling of slight disbelief at it all. He faded after 1963 for several reasons. Most obviously his style - the doo wop chorus, the claps, the subway harmonies behind his plaintive, slurred tenor became infra dig when the rock scene went a la mod.
When "Abrah,am, Martin and John " came out in 1968 and became such a. big hit it was a surprise, though not an altogether pleasant one. True it was on the Laurie label again (in the States), but there was none of that racy tension and acapella streetcorner feel to it. What was it? it was.a bunch of platitudinous, sick-making crap that cashed in on American sentiment (Dick Holler wrote it and may God forgive him). It wasn't even funny like "Tell Laura 1 Love Her."
Dion himself says of it .At first 1 thought it was out of my backyard I liked it, 1 gotta admit but I didn't think it was for me; 1 didn't think 1 could make it mine. I just thought it was like a song trying to cash in 0n the guys, deaths, but when 1 listened and got the lyrics, 1 realised it wasn't just-about death, 'that it had to do with now. 1 thought it was simply about assassination ' but it has to do with life.
Well, all right, but it ~Was the record that put him back on the Top 40.
,During his five years in the wilderness, however his approach to music had altered drastically' Early on in the sixties he had wanted to hit Vegas and the night club scene ( 1 want - to be an all round entertainer -) but around the time he was slipping, from sight he had become hung up on the blues.
1 had a few groups and 1 was working in .places and listening to music 1 hadn't listened to before. Then 1 met John Hammond and he said 'Hey, I know You got a thing for the blues' - he mentioned 'Ruby Baby' -and he said, 1 listen to some of these.' And he played me some Leroy Carr and Robert Johnson, and that really screwed *me up 'as far as that scene I'd been moving in was concerned. I realised I'd been just on the surface before - you know? - and this music gave me more meaning. Anyway, I got myself a guitar and a few picks and just started strumming a few chords ' "
Eventually he moved out with his wife Susan to Miami (where most of his last album, You're Not Alone," was recorded - at Criteria Studios, which Stills and Aretha use). He did an album for Laurie called simply " Dion " which was folk rock tarted up with strings.
And then he cut " Sit Down Old Friend." Made last year at United Recording Studios in Hollywood, it offers the best example of his current musical approach. it's white country blues; relaxed, melismatic, and somehow for me touching because it represents a goal grasped at and finally attained. But this is not just an appeal to sentiment and nostalgia.
The songs, mostly written by himself, have a true sensitivity born out of pain ; the guitar work acoustic, of course and always subsidiary ' to the vocals) - is impeccable, and his voice, though pitched lower than in the old days, still has that elasticity and beautiful whinnying tremolo.
"You're Not Alone" 1 don't like quite as much. It"s less open, more elaborate, and the album overall has a "produced" feel about it. But it still makes it for me. One track, indeed, " The Stuff 1 Got," is pure 1961 Dion; a fast tempo overlaid with that deceptively lazy vocal.
Dion is, in short, an artist who has got his second wind, and it's not so much a reincarnation as a transformation. He seems to have come good, moreover, at a time when other artists from his era, like Brian Hyland and Ricky Nelson, are climbing back to favour. It proves that the good don't necessarily die young.
Ruby and Sue and Donna are, of course, in the Past, but he's still got a good word to say for them and those times. " 1 liked the music, I dug it, 1 was havin fun with it. It moves, the sounds were different, and 1 always experimented in the studios."
He is genuinely fond of that bastardised acapella approach he popularised. " The way I used to approach it was to think of all my friends banging on cans in the park with a few bottles of beer. We'd get something going for maybe three hours in the park or on the street corner, and 1 used to think, 'If it's good enough for the corner it's ,good enough for the record.'I tried to capture that sound in the studio, but of course 1 never did."
The Belmonts, of course, he has left way behind. They are probably not too far from Belmont Avenue in the Bronx right now. Carlo Mastrangelo is a jazz drummer, Fred Milano is in some obscure group, and Angelo d'Aleo, who had that beautiful 1 countertenor, works now in a hospital. Dion has had his downers but he's made it, after all. His philosophy? " If it's honest its good. When everyone's tryin to be honest you don't have to be uptight, and the scene is more honest now than it was. The photographer takes a picture and if you look a mess when he did it, well, you look a mess."
The other day 1 met Dion, who was in Britain for the Lincoln Festival. He wears glasses now, and his hair, which is moderately long, is receding a little at the front. He's very amiable, if a little abstracted. All the tirne 1 was thinking, though what happened to those kids who, played on the street corner?
Yes, this is the same Dion who was a genuine Rock and Roil star with the Belmont in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Who had bits like "Where or When," "A Teenager In ~ and "No One Knows." The quartet, organised in 1958, featured four decidedly Italian youngsters from New York (the momciker Belmont: came from Belmont Avenue in the Bronx). For a while Dion. Freddie, Angelo and Carlo were a Top- 40, Bandstand-ing, white-bucked sensation. After leaving the Belmonts in the early --Sixties Dion scored a few more times with heavily produced hits, like "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer." only to fade with the British invasion., like so many others.
And now, Dion Dimucci playing classical and steel suing guitar and singing in a straight forward. coffee-house casual- manner. There is no pretence here-like many other "name" refugees from that era (Ricky Nelson, the Everlys, Ronnie Hawkins}, Dion has-returned with long hair, free-from lyrics and. one suspects, a sense'- of relevance. -.
Dion's voice - now sounds like a combination of Dino Valente and Fred Neil with occasional scat-Singing that reminds one ~ Nina Simone's outings on her colpex album . Highlights include the schuman-Brel song "if we only had love" that is a perfect vehicle for Dions searching plaintive vocal.
Most of the rest it the album is Dion written and country-blues orientated .From an incisive version of the over recorded "You Can't Judge A Book by the Cover to Dions own 'jammed Up Blues," listen to the sometimes slurred. sometimes wide-open phrasing combined with impeccably restrained and deliberate guitar-work. It is Dions sensitive guitar styling that makes this album work.-he is always In and right-out-of the correct places at the correct times. His bass rifts and movement from open strumming to picking on some tracks is amazing. And he never John Hammonds his vocals into abortions of dialect-you are aware at all times that what You're listening to is a white cat singing his blues-he consistently moves in areas of emotional stimulation that only Dion Dimucci can move In.
Seven or eight years ago guys like Mark Spoclstra, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton, Hamilton Camp (who. incidentally, does six vintage Dylan songs wonderfully on his Paths of Victory album) Dave Van Ronk and Jack Elliott were moving from coffee-house to folk festival to guitar workshop. This record sounds, more than anything else, like a spin-off from that era. And marvellously so. Not a heavy album at all and it doesn't try to be. You can tell that from the title. It seems a little out of place this era of Creedamce and the Stones. But for just relaxing and stretching out on sunny days its perfect . ., if you dig dino valentine or Fred Neil this is right up your mellow alley. Even Robert Johnson fans might turn the volume up in a few spots.
GARY VON TRESCIH
Dion DiMucci(vocals, guitar); various accompaniments.
As people like Dion supplant the hard-rock groups, the curse of currency may be dissipated. Most of the pop albums during the past several years had a life span of about three weeks. They were played endlessly while they were played, but they soon became dated and were shelved. Dions new album has such a low-key approach that its appeal, though not obvious at first, may last for years instead of a few days.
I don't think this is a rare piece of art, but it is a nice little piece of craftsmanship, more successful than it -is ambitious. Dion was involved in composing seven of the ten song!. He borrowed a few musical ideas from some of his earlier songs. but that doesn't seem to bother me much, probably because I have come to regard most of Dions songs - that is, his quiet songs-as parts of a larger work, not a planned work but a loose federation of Dion-isms. He knows his own voice well, and writes for it accordingly; it is thin , stringy voice, facile within its range capable of lovingly massaging some sounds and completely. stumped by others . Except -The Stuff I Got a change-of pace jump tune, Dion gave his voice the stuff it could handle. He doesn't do anything vital and new for Let it be (or vice versa) but Josie ..A peaceful Place, and The Visitor more than makeup for that. The arrangements are among the best you will encounter all year-subdued - but intricate. The album certainly doesn't grab you by the lapels, but it gets into your system and stays gentle on your mind
Dion's a man I take my hat off to because he's sort of the under-ground Audie Murphy. He's been to hell and back. Now he appears to have his thing together, and these days 1 respect anyone who does.
The important thing about You're Not Alone is its sincerity. He means every note of it: an honesty that comes from experience and personal, painful observation. When you've knocked about from top to bottom, you either turn bitter and senile or you get mellow. Dions mellow.
Politically-and you can't escape it you might disagree with attraction Works Better than Promotion, but the thing about Dion. is that he's so direct and his sense so common that something in your rage touches with a twinge of self doubt ."Close to it all " is a beautiful song about a simple idea . We- you and me are trying to get close to something . Musically speaking You're Not Alone is soft :acoustically guitared and stringed submissively drummed , organised and lightly based .
Dions -voice is middle ranged. He sings lazily even mushy-mouthed. But there's a difference between this and most windmills and shadows records . This is nice fl have on the box when you're Sitting on the floor and into a good. friendly rap. Which is to say that the Lp doesn't hit you over the head. Rather, softly, it plants a patch of nouveau aware flower child seeds. But sadly. I suppose, like most honest attempts at honesty. its not pushy. It won't appeal to the groupie in you rattle your brains nor turn you on sexually. All it does is talk, friendly-like.
Don't get it wrong. You're Not Alone isn't particularly cerebral either. Nothing fancy and not at all complex; emotionally speaking. But that's its beauty. "Tis the gift to be simple".
And honestly sure of your outlook. I don't know about you, but id rather listen to one man that's been through some real shit than 100 punky 25-year-old big-headed would-be decadents .. Which is why i like You're Not Alone
Performance Just tight
Stereo Quality Very good
With one song, Abraham, Martin, and John, Dion DiMucci wiped from his image the layers of unsightly glop that had accumulated while he was the leader of an unspeakably bad Fifties-style rock-and-roll organisation known as Dion and the Belmonts. After Abraham circulated among FM rock stations for a few weeks, all was forgiven, and Dion could hold up his head on any campus in the land. Now, with this recording he establishes himself as one of the eminent balladeers of our day
Accompanied by classical or steel-string guitars, and sometimes both, Dion challenges an awesome variety of material here, and does so in a relaxed but not casual manner. He doesn't have the kind of voice 1 usually like very much-too thin and nasal-but there's a certain richness in it, and it conveys a lot of emotional sincerity. He goes right up to the brink; one more step and he would plunge into the maudlin abyss. He goes along the edge not gingerly, mind you, but in a springy, confident gait. I cannot imagine any other singer-even Jacques Brel, one of the song's composers- equalling him on if we Only Have Love.
Since leaving the Belmonts, Dion seems to have become rather picky about the songs he records. The result here is a balanced if perhaps ambitious mixture of ballads blues numbers light singer like you can't judge the book by its cover . He isn't the greatest blues singer but he does a fine job on sweet Pea, which he helped write (and which, I hope, wont be taken for the - silly ce. 1963 bubble-gum song of the same name). He is at his best with the slow ballad, and on this disc he's at his very best on Just a Little girl and Let Go, Let God (the latter, a DiMucci composition, will remind many of Abraham, Martii4 and John). King Con Man, another Dion original, is a hip novelty piece ('1 can sell you so many hot dogs/You wouldn't look a cold dog in the face) with blues rhythms, the sort of thing I was thinking only Tim Hardin, among current singer-songwriters, could do well. Consider that opinion revised. If this recording has a flaw, it is that Dion has tried to do too much. For my taste, he could have thrown out You Can't : Judge a Book and one or two other up beat pieces in favour of more pretty ballads the just little girl sort -but this is about as critical as i can get .
Dion ,after all, - - wrote four of the songs , helped write 4 others and arranged the (excellent ) accompaniment .. he probably had a lot on his mind.
- - stereo review
The You're not alone album includes more players and features Dions first songs with long term writing partner Bill Touhy , alongside great re-workings of Let it be and Blackbird . With the bonus track of Doctor Rock'n'roll this is fine fare to contrast with the mans rock material.
Thanx to ray for forwarding this
The folk and blues recordings of the wanderer gathered together under 1 digital title.
Another remarkable chapter in the tale of 1 of rocks greatest voices.
If the recently released Phil Spector Album was a surprise to those only familiar with the hits , then these 2 Warners albums from 1970 and 1971 are from another planet. .
Sit down old friend casts Dion as Robert Johnson ,wholly solo with acoustic guitar laying bare the strength of that majestic voice with songs like the title track testifying to the journey that bought him from rock'n'roll stardom to AA and rehab. Powerful stuff .
On you're not alone Dion is augmented by some crack session players on another collection of hand picked covers rejuvenating Maccas Blackbird and let it be alongside powerful originals like attraction works better than promotion . Unlikely to ever be covered by Showwaddywaddy.