Dion is amazing.
Of all the rock n rollers of the 50s he has probably come out the best …
He is alive, he found internal peace and, musically, he hasn't been trapped by the music that made him famous.
Check out my other comments for biography but Dion (at first with the Belmonts and then solo) burst onto the scene out of New York City in the late 50s and early 60s with a series of rock n roll doo wop anthems. They are era defining songs: "I Wonder Why," "A Teenager in Love", "Runaround Sue", "The Wanderer", "Lovers Who Wander" "Ruby Baby".
In 1968 he put personal demons behind him and changed his music altogether and had a hit with a pop folk ballad "Abraham, Martin and John" (#4US). This began his singer-songwriter and "introspective" period.
"Sanctuary" comes from that period.
Dion never abandoned his rock n roll roots (live) but the singer-songwriter albums were just that. Dion wrote a few songs that meant something to him and sang them. He, also, given his pedigree wasn't adverse to a cover and covered a few songs or picked songs from aspiring songwriters. And, the albums are of their time in many ways.
Laid back, "meaningful", thoughtful, and, obviously, personal. But, Dion as a singer-songwriter stood out from the pack, not because of his songwriting, but as a singer he had an amazing emotive voice. A kid brought up on doo wop and pop and rock with an incredibly soulful (and if he wanted bluesy) voice he could outsing anyone else in the genre (one where they tended to devote their time to words, err lyrics).
And, as such despite his (limited) success in the area I suspect he wasn't totally embraced. He sang too well and he had been a teen idol.
Still he persisted for the better part of ten years and the demands for material must have been great.
Since "Abraham, Martin and John" appeared in 1968 there had been three albums of introspection, "Dion" (1968), "Sit Down Old Friend" (1970), "You're Not Alone" (1971). He may have felt some of that pressure to write and find material for "Sanctuary". The album has a re-recording of his magnificent rock era track "The Wanderer" and three live songs recorded at The Bitter End in New York in 1971, "Abraham Martin & John", "Almond Joy" and "Ruby Baby".
But that doesn't diminish the album. They all work to remind you that Dion had a life before and was looking too the future.
The studio tracks are very laid back but with David Bromberg on lead guitar and dobro and a tight rhythm section everything is beautifully smooth (perhaps too smooth) with a gentle upstate New York country vibe like James Taylor, Jesse Colin Young, or Gordon Lightfoot (yes, I know he's Canadian).
It certainly is soothing though and quite optimistic by 1971 standards.
Another album of introspection in the singer-songwriter genre came with "Suite For Late Summer" (1972) before Dion moved on. He never actually moved away from introspection just away from the strictly singer-songwriter stylings. Streetwise pop, Christian music, rock n roll and urban blues would follow whilst his recent albums seem to incorporate everything into a seamless whole.
All songs by Dion unless otherwise noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Sunshine Lady – a gentle joyful bounce on this song serves it well.
- Sanctuary – (Don Burnham / Dick Holler ) – another optimistic song which is all sunshine but undeniably soothing.
- Willigo – some Paul Simon sounds starting to creep in. Well Simon was another New York native.
- Harmony Sound – a beautiful gentle ballad.
- Gotta Get Up – the song is slight but well sung.
- Medley: Please Be My Friend – (Ian Matthews) /Take a Little Time – (Dion DiMucci / Susan Dimucci / Ian Matthews) – songs written or co-written with English folkie alt country singer Ian Matthews
- The Wanderer – (Ernie Maresca) – if anyone can "play" with this song it's Dion. The original is a piece of brilliance. Here, done as a gentle folk blues it's cool and a good showcase for Dion's voice but it won't ever replace the original.
- Abraham, Martin and John – (Dick Holler) – (live) – The first of three live songs. Wonderful and if you didn't know Dion was from NYC the spoken intro will leave you in no doubt. A joy.
- Almond Joy – (Eric Von Schmidt) – (live) – Eric Von Schmidt was an American folk music singer-songwriter influential on the East Coast folk boom. This song was most notably done by Richard and Mimi Farina and released (after Ricards's death) in 1968. A humorous folk song
- Ruby Baby – (Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller) – (live) – back in the groove he does an old classic in a contemporary fashion though faithfully. The crowd claps along. And rightly they should.
- Brand New Morning – a beautiful and optimistic song. It may be hippie in sentiment but it also, equallu, point towards Dion's future Christian music.
Quite beautiful in part … I'm keeping it.
Medley: Please Be My Friend /Take a Little Time
Brand New Morning
- The remaining Bitter End tracks to create "Dion: Recorded Live at the Bitter End August 1971" released in 2015. http://theseconddisc.com/2015/04/09/review-dion-recorded-live-at-the-bitter-end-august-1971/