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Son of Skip James
Artist: Dion
Label: SPV Blue
Length: 15 tracks / 50 mins

Dion DiMucci's previous release Bronx in Blue was a stripped down blues project with a stunning authenticity of phrasing and a freshness that belied the ages of both the music and musician. It had taken a surprisingly long time for him to return to his blues roots, but it was well worth the wait. This one generally carries on where Bronx in Blue left off, but kicks off with more of an acoustic rock and rock feel (Chuck Berry's “Nadine” and Willie Dixon's “My Babe”) until the twelve bar kicks in with “Hoodoo Man Blues.”  
 
The sound is again very crisp and full, considering that this is largely Dion playing guitar and blues harp, with just two co-players sharing piano, organ and percussion between them. That said, there is a slightly fuller sound this time round.
 
DiMucci is keen to be recognised for his guitar work as well as his singing. On the excellent solo stomp “Drop Down Mama” the sparkle in his guitar playing again starts flashing like the sun on waves. There's also some lovely playing on “Preachin' Blues.”
 
Despite the title there is only one of Skip James's songs here (compared with three each from Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson), but Dion does offer two of his own, one of which is the title track. 
 
Dion's other track is “The Thunderer,” a piece about Saint Jerome, whose complex lifestyle has echoes in that of James, who reportedly led a typical bluesman's ambivalent life, holding onto an austere religious belief, while occasionally living recklessly. This duality is a motif etched into the disc, with Dion's own upfront faith rubbing cheek-by-jowl against the supposed devil's music of Johnson. He writes in the somewhat Dylanesque track (which makes Jerome sound pretty curmudgeonly): 
 
             God's angry man, his crotchety scholar
             Was Saint Jerome the great name caller 
             Who cared not a dime for laws of libel 
             And in his spare time translated the Bible..
             Quick to disparage all joys but learning ...
 
 and       He served his master, though with complaint 
             He wasn't a plaster sort of saint 
 
Skip James came to fame just as the great Depression struck, and consequently left his blues career to become the choir director in his father's church. He was not re-discovered until the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964, where he met Dion, whose own fame was huge (earning a half-million dollar advance – a vast sum for that time).
 
In the CD booklet, Dion mentions the meeting and what it all meant to him:”We talked about the blues, guitars, Jesus and his health. He was one beautiful, shy, mysterious dude, who sang like he was from outer space. John Hurt sat quietly smilin' while we talked. I looked up to these guys like heroes, mentors. The early fathers of American roots music. I wanted to get close to them any way I could. They were all that motivated me at the center of my being!
 
“I define the blues a the naked cry of the human heart longing to be in union with God. I know for me it was all-consuming...”
 
This really is a straight continuation of the last project, but why not? DiMucci has nothing left to prove and _Bronx in Blue_ was so good that it makes sense to continue the idea. His playing, phrasing, song selection and production style all continue to be authentic, simple and superb.
 
Derek Walker
 

 
 


 

 
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