Music

Dion: Recorded Live at Bitter End, August 1971

Photo: Courtesy of Dion DiMucci

An archival recording of a transitional period in Dion’s eclectic career, this record offers a smattering of the styles for which he’s best known to varying to degrees of success.


Dion

Recorded Live at Bitter End, August 1971

Label: Omnivore Recordings
US Release Date: 2015-04-07
UK Release Date: 2015-03-30
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Dion DiMucci has lived at least four separate musical lives over the course of his nearly 60-year career. Beginning with the Belmonts in the early 1960s, he trafficked in the doo wop and early rock styles of the day. By the late ‘60s, he’d adopted more of a folky persona infused with hints of the Delta blues. By the mid-‘70s, he’d embraced MOR pop, bringing in Phil Spector to infuse his overlooked 1975 masterpiece Born to Be With You with shag-carpet production. In the 21st century, Dion has returned to the blues, cutting several critically acclaimed albums of Delta blues delivered in his inimitable growl.

But in 1971, the year the performance on Ace’s new release was captured at New York’s Bitter End, Dion was a man without a sound to call his own. An intimate solo performance, Recorded Live at Bitter End, August 1971 finds Dion exploring his options. Sticking largely to his more folk-oriented material and a slate of covers informed by the success of 1968’s self-titled release, these recordings offer a subdued, contemplative side of Dion not generally associated with his better-known material (“Abraham, Martin And John” notwithstanding).

As if reaffirming his folk persona, Dion opens the show with a quiet reading of Dylan’s “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind”. While lovingly performed, it’s a tepid, tired rendition that is rightly greeted by equally timid, almost disinterested applause. As if sensing the audience’s disconnect he quickly rolls through an original (“Brand New Morning”) before diving headlong into what seems to be his true passion, the blues.

With Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” he attempts to enliven the performance with some weak stage patter in hopes of winning over the audience. Finding this having failed, he gives the song all he’s got, his voice an ideal instrument to convey the blues, sliding up and down the melody with an effortlessness Berry could only dream of. Taking an astonishingly deft vocal scat solo, Dion shows of his full range within the performances first three numbers.

But it’s not until the maudlin “Abraham, Martin and John” that the audience seems to rouse itself, applauding wildly upon recognition of the hit. This response seems to only further Dion’s resolve to present the audience with more challenging material, briefly quoting “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” before the song’s second verse. It’s an interesting approach to the song the majority of the audience no doubt came to the show anticipating.

With the audience having been sated with the deployment of his requisite hit, Dion delves into a spate of covers from the likes of Leonard Cohen (“Sisters of Mercy”), Sonny Boy Williams (“Don’t Start Me Talking”), Bob Dylan (“One Too Many Mornings”), and the Beatles (a stellar reinterpretation of “Blackbird”). While stylistically disparate, Dion manages to inject much of himself into these songs, reinventing each in a manner befitting both his voice and burgeoning understanding of an artistic aesthetic clearly in flux.

While not having truly found his voice at this point, Dion proves himself a nuanced interpreter with an impressive range and underappreciated skills as a guitarist. His reimagining of “Blackbird” in particular is notable for its almost jazz-like chord structure. Here his guitar anticipates the downbeat on the well-known ascending riff, while his vocals are largely free-form, soaring high above the original melody in favor of a much more personal reading. It’s a highly effective approach that, had it been applied more freely throughout, would have easily elevated these recordings from merely good to great.

Where Dion truly shines, and where he’s rightly gravitated in recent years, is the blues. Beginning with “You Better Watch Yourself aka Drinkin’ That Wine”, his performance changes ever so slightly. There’s a looseness to his approach, a relaxed feel that allows him to fully inhabit the song in a way not present on the other performances here. Similarly, “Don’t Start Me Talking” shows not only his guitar skills, but also his mastery of the Delta blues idiom at a time when the majority of popular white performers were plugging in and rocking a bastardized version of the electric blues. Here he elects to stick close to the source material, a traditionalist in the best, most reverential sense. It’s a fairly bold move, but with little to lose at the time critically or commercially, Dion was free to follow his muse to varying degrees of success.

A sympathetic, light-hearted representation of an unjustly overlooked, exceptional vocalist and interpreter, Recorded Live at Bitter End, August 1971 serves more as a transitional moment than a definitive artistic statement. Covering all periods of his career up to that point, the song selections and performances are a bit too scattershot to transcend their better-known incarnations. That said, it’s intriguing to hear the majesty of his voice unburdened by excessive production and instrumentation, free to explore the uncharted corners of songs both familiar and obscure. That not everything works is of little consequence as Dion seems to be enjoying himself enough for everyone in the audience. And that, as a listener, is all one can hope for from a live recording.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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