Posts Tagged ‘Dion’

‘In The Shadow Of The Evening Trees . . .’

July 18, 2011

Originally posted July 1, 2008

Despite the string of albums he’s released over the years, despite the folk-rock phase, the countryish phase and the Christian music phase, despite even “Abraham, Martin and John,” which went to No. 4 in 1968 – despite all that, Dion to me has always been an inhabitant of a mythical 1960. He’s on the corner and under the streetlight, standing hipshot and snapping his fingers, singing doo-wop to the night: “Teenager In Love.” “Where or When.” “The Wanderer.” “Ruby Baby.”

Not all of those, and maybe no more than half of Dion’s hits, were doo-wop, of course. His solo hits – “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby” among them – inhabited some odd place between pop and R&B and most were tougher than most anything else that showed up in the Top 40 during the first years of the 1960s. His softer songs, like “Ruby Baby,” were served atop a plate of stoicism, which made their tenderness all the more persuasive. But all of his hits, even those that were not doo-wop, carry in them an echo of neighborhood nights and street corner harmonies.

It’s sometimes hard, then, to reconcile that mythical figure with the performer who has never stopped working, never stopped singing, never stopped recording and releasing albums. Some of those albums stood out: His 1968 album, Dion, which included “Abraham, Martin and John,” was, if not a masterpiece, at least a fascinating and sometimes very good exploration of folk rock. Suite for Late Summer, which came out in 1972, has Dion in singer-songwriter mode, and that album, too, is interesting if not a classic. In 1978, Dion released Return of the Wanderer, maybe the best thing he’d ever done, highlighted by the great song, “I Used To Be A Brooklyn Dodger.” And though critics disagreed, I thought 1989’s Yo Frankie was pretty good.

The releases continued. In the past few years, Dion’s found his way to blues, releasing Bronx in Blue in 2005 and Son of Skip James in 2007, two credible CDs of blues with a few originals added to material pulled from the catalogs of Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams and more. As All-Music Guide notes, very few people heard those two albums, as has been pretty much true for Dion since 1968, whether the albums were those I’ve mentioned here or any of the roughly fifteen other albums he’s released since then.

That includes the album from which today’s track comes, one that I skipped over in this brief chronology: Déjà Nu, which came out in 2000. Among the batch of songs Dion wrote for the record nestle three covers, one of them a song by Scott Kempner, with whom Dion collaborated on a couple of other songs on the album. The other two covers were pulled from Bruce Springsteen’s 1992 album, Lucky Town: “Book of Dreams” and “If I Should Fall Behind.”

The second of those is the more interesting, as Dion takes the song and pulls it back to that mythical 1960, standing under the streetlight with his pals. As AMG notes, the song “seems like it was written with this arrangement in mind.”

Others have covered the song, including Cindy Bullens, Flying Mule, Linda Ronstadt, Robin & Linda Williams, Rootbound and country star Faith Hill. I don’t know many of those versions, but it’s doubtful that any of them get to the heart of the song the way Dion does. (As the song – like the Lucky Town album from which it comes – is among the less prominent items in the Springsteen catalog, I’m posting his original version here, too).

Bruce Springsteen – “If I Should Fall Behind” [1992]

Dion – “If I Should Fall Behind” [2000]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2007

It was in early 1972 that I began my slide into an addiction that persists to this day. Just like in the songs and the movies, it was because of a woman. And an older woman, at that.

I was a college freshman. She was a sophomore. And the addiction was coffee.

It was about midway through my first year of college, and I stopped one Friday morning to say hi to the secretaries in Headley Hall, the building where I’d worked briefly as a janitor the summer before. As I chatted with Ginny – who wasn’t all that much older than I was – her new part-time assistant, a student, came to her desk with a question. Ginny introduced me to Char, a sophomore. She smiled, I smiled, she went back to work and I said goodbye to Ginny and went off to class.

My plans for that weekend were more elaborate than usual. I still lived at home, but two or three times during that first year of college I spent a weekend staying with friends in one of the dorms on campus. We’d hang around the dorm or hit some parties Friday night, recuperate on Saturday, and do the same thing Saturday night and generally act like college kids. The weekend would start as soon as I finished my two-hour stint as a janitor in the Business Building that afternoon. I’d head from there to my dad’s office in the library, grab the overnight bag I’d left there that morning, and then walk to the dorm where Rick and Dave lived.

As I headed down a staircase in Stewart Hall toward the tunnel to the Business Building, I heard a voice greet me. It was Char, the young lady I’d met that morning. We talked for a few minutes and then she asked what my plans were for the weekend. I told her I was staying on campus, and then – emboldened by who knows what – asked if she wanted to hang around with me and with my friends that evening. She agreed. So we spent a good chunk of time with each other that evening, and we spent an hour or so talking and cuddling in a little lounge in her dorm Sunday afternoon. I called her Monday evening, and for the next few months, we saw each other frequently.

One evening after a movie, we stopped to have something to eat. I ordered a soda to go with my food, and Char ordered coffee. Looking back, we were both kids, of course, but to me, as we sat there, she seemed so much more adult sipping her coffee than I did slurping Coke through a straw. That thought stayed with me, and the following Monday, when I had an hour to kill at the student union before heading off to sweep floors at the Business Building, I took a cup of coffee to my table.

About two months later, Char and I went different directions, which saddened me. But I was young, and after some grieving, there was always the prospect of someone new on the next stairway. So I walked on.

And more than thirty-five years later, I’m still drinking coffee.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

“Heart of Gold” by Bettye LaVette, Atco single 6891

“Soft Parade of Years” by Dion from Suite For Late Summer

“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, Philadelphia Int. single 3521

“All Down The Line” by the Rolling Stones from Exile On Main Street

“Woman’s Gotta Have It” by Bobby Womack, United Artists single 50902

“Gypsy” by Van Morrison from Saint Dominic’s Preview

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes” by The Band from Rock of Ages

“Nobody Like You” by Bread from Baby I’m-A Want You

“Harvest” by Neil Young from Harvest

“Hold On This Time” by Fontella Bass from Free

“Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)” by Manassas from Manassas

“Cry Like a Rainstorm” by Eric Justin Kaz from If You’re Lonely

“Hearsay” by the Soul Children, Stax single 119

A few notes on some of the songs:

Bettye LaVette’s standout cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was part of Atlantic Records’ attempt to make LaVette the star she likely should have been. Recorded in Detroit, where she’d recorded earlier in her career, the record tanked, as did a single recorded in Muscle Shoals later that year. After that, Atlantic pulled the plug on LaVette’s album Child of the ’70s, which was finally released – with extra tracks – not all that long ago by Rhino. It’s worth finding. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The A Side for the info and the tip.)

I do recall hearing Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once while sipping a cup of coffee in the student union. It would have been in the fall of the year, though, when Paul’s record was No 1 for three weeks and was almost inescapable. It’s still a great record. (Billy Paul isn’t quite a One-Hit Wonder, as he reached No. 37 with “Thanks For Saving My Life” in the spring of 1974. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one.)

The more I listen to “All Down The Line” and the tracks that surround it, the more certain I am that Exile On Main Street is the best album the Rolling Stones ever recorded and almost certainly one of the best five albums of all time.

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which Chuck Willis wrote and took to No. 24 in 1958, was one of The Band’s perennial concert favorites. This version comes from Rock of Ages, the live recording of a New Year’s Eve performance at the end of 1971, with horn charts put together for the event by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. The album is a great one, and it’s available in an expanded version that includes ten bonus tracks, including three tracks with Bob Dylan.

“Cry Like A Rainstorm,” done here by its writer, Eric Kaz, is more familiar in versions by Bonnie Raitt on Takin’ My Time from 1973 and by Linda Ronstadt on Cry Like a Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind in 1989.

The Soul Children’s “Hearsay” is just a great piece of Stax music.

A Strange, Terrifying Journey

May 10, 2011

Originally posted September 21, 2007

I wrote a little while ago about the trip my family took in 1968: my parents and I heading from Minnesota to Pennsylvania to greet my sister when she came home from six weeks in France, and the four of us heading back to Minnesota along a different route.

Well, 1968 itself was a kind of journey – as all years are, I guess – and thinking back about the world of 1968, its journey took all of us here in the U.S. through a strange and terrifying land.

The journey began at the end of January with what became known at the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, a synchronized military campaign launched against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces by the People’s Army of Vietnam – the regular army of North Vietnam – and the guerilla forces known as the Viet Cong. The end result was a military loss for the attackers, as they sustained casualties without gaining any ground (although gaining territory is not at all the aim of a guerilla war as we are learning again to what I fear will be our everlasting sorrow). But the attack was nevertheless a victory for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, as our government and military had been assuring us for some time that our military operations had diminished our opposition’s capabilities to the point that they could no longer mount major offensives. The sight of U.S. Marines battling attackers inside the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in the city that was then called Saigon tended to lead us to other conclusions.

On an April evening in Memphis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots broke out in the African-American sections of many major U.S. cities, with Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago being among the most affected.

Just more than two months later, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel just moments after claming victory in the California primary election; the victory had made him the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president.

And just more than two months after that, downtown Chicago exploded into violence during the Democratic National Convention, as demonstrators and police clashed in what was later judged by investigators to be a “police riot.”

The rest of the year was quieter, says my memory, bolstered by Wikipedia, but how could it not have been? In November, Richard Nixon won the presidential election, defeating Hubert Humphrey in a divisive race that also included third-party candidate George Wallace.

And in perhaps the only public event of the year that provided any solace at all, in December, three astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 space capsule became the first humans to orbit the moon and to look back from that vantage point at our blue planet.

Such images have become so commonplace – in advertising and elsewhere – in the thirty-nine years since that it’s hard for those who did not experience it to understand just how electrifying and humbling it was to see for the first time all of the earth at one moment. That image – of the blue earth hanging alone in the black of space – underlined to me, and, I think, to many, how alone we are and how this small earth is all we have, a lesson that I think we need to relearn.

Another bit of solace, though not nearly as cosmic, came in October with the release of “Abraham, Martin and John,” a single by Dion, the one-time king of doo-wop and pre-Beatles pop rock. Sounding unlike anything that might have been expected from Dion, and sounding folky enough to have been written years ago (except for the telling coda that had Robert Kennedy “walkin’ up over the hill”), the song – written by Dick Holler – was an instant classic, and the single climbed to No. 4 during a twelve-week stay in the Top 40.

When the accompanying album, Dion, came out, it was also a departure, more folky than anything one might have expected, with songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, folkie Fred Neil and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix? Yeah, Dion covered “Purple Haze,” giving it an odd serenity in a performance that sits high on my “Who the hell thought that was a good idea?” list. The rest of the album, though, is pretty good. I especially like Dion’s take on Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy.” (I’ve included in the zip file “Daddy Rollin’ [In Your Arms],” which was the B-side to the “Abraham, Martin and John” single [Laurie 3464].)

This is a rip from vinyl that I found out on the ’Net and used because the record it came from was in slightly better shape than my own vinyl copy of Dion.

Track list
Abraham, Martin and John
Purple Haze
Tomorrow Is A Long Time/Everybody’s Talkin’
Sonny Boy
The Dolphins
He Looks A Lot Like Me
Sun Fun Song
From Both Sides Now
Sisters of Mercy
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
*Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)

Dion – Dion [1968]
*Bonus track

Early Posts Without Much Comment

April 20, 2011

In the first month that Echoes In The Wind was online, I shared albums and a few singles from several performers without much commentary of my own, relying heavily on quotes from other sources. Here is a list of those performers and albums:

Mystics – “Pain” [1969]
Posted January 3, 2007

Bobby Whitlock – Bobby Whitlock [1972]
Posted January 3, 2007

Toni Childs – Union [1988]
Probably posted January 5, 2007

Levon Helm – American Son [1980]
Posted January 5, 2007

Levon Helm – Levon Helm [1978]
Posted January 11, 2007

Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars – Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars [1977]
Posted January 13, 2007

Levon Helm – Levon Helm [1982]
Posted January 16, 2007

Dion – “Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)” [1968]
Posted January 16, 2007

Cate Brothers – Cate Bros [1975]
Posted January 19, 2007