Friday, September 23, 2011
Dion - Sit Down Old Friend (Warner Brothers-Seven Arts, 1970)
I'll admit that I'm not the world's biggest Dion fan, but that's largely because his early doo-wop stuff really isn't my thing. Even so, the material that he recorded during the mid 1960s through the mid 1970s qualifies as one of the most impressive bodies of work by any musician. In my estimation, he turned the corner toward the end of his tenure with Columbia after a fabled meeting with John Hammond, Sr. during which the Italian kid from the Bronx was introduced to the Mississippi Delta blues of Robert Johnson. Predictably, the artistry of his music substantially increased while the frequency of his hits suffered the opposite fate. From that point, consistently great things happened in the recording studio - including Dion's brief much-deserved return to the charts in 1968 with "Abraham, Martin and John" - up to and including the Phil Spector-produced Born to Be with You.
Sit Down Old Friend was the first of his albums for Warner Brothers and represents one of the most remarkable transformations witnessed in the history of popular music. This LP's beautifully sparse and melancholy acoustic folk solo numbers are about as far removed from "A Teenager in Love" as one can possibly get. Dion's already sublime vocals were never in better form; here they sound like a gentle force of nature. And for those who don't already know what an excellent guitar player he is, you're in for a really nice surprise. Consisting mostly of his own compositions, the track list features 11 exquisite songs of varying subject matter: the religiously-themed but never preachy "Natural Man," "If We Only Had Love," "Let Go, Let God," and "Sit Down Old Friend"; gorgeous love songs such as "I Don't Believe My Race Is Run," "Little Pink Pony," and "Just a Little Girl" (with the latter two concerning one of his daughters); the superb wholly original white boy blues of "Jammed Up," "Sweet Pea," and "King Con Man"; and an inspired Willie Dixon cover ("You Can't Judge a Book") thrown in for good measure. Although not a huge commercial success, Sit Down Old Friend is nothing short of a masterpiece, filled with performances that are among Dion's finest and powerful enough to make grown men cry.
1. Natural Man
2. I Don't Believe My Race Is Run
3. Jammed Up Blues
4. Little Pink Pony
5. You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover
6. If We Only Have Love
7. Sweet Pea
8. Just a Little Girl
9. Let Go, Let God
10. King Con Man
11. Sit Down Old Friend