One way or another, Dion DiMucci has always stood out among his peers.
While many of his contemporaries were raised in southern states, DiMucci was born and bred in New York — in the Bronx, to be exact. And unlike Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Ricky Nelson, Fats Domino et al., DiMucci was also part of the doo-wop scene that thrived at the same time rock ’n’ roll was becoming the world’s most dominant form of popular music.
Now 76, DiMucci is one of the last 1950s rockers still performing with any regularity or relevance. He might be the only one from rock’s pioneering first wave who has released several worthwhile new studio albums in the 21st century.
New York Is My Home (Instant Records), due Feb. 12, is the latest addition to his great late-career catalog. Like most of those recent efforts, Home is built on different elements of another genre DiMucci has absorbed into his musical DNA — the blues. It’s there right from the start (in the excellent opener “Aces Up Your Sleeve”) and remains a steady presence throughout, whether it be the chord progressions, the electric-guitar tones or the always-complementary licks and solos, courtesy of Conan O’Brien show bandleader and Fab Faux guitarist Jimmy Vivino.
Featuring clean, no-frills production by DiMucci and Vivino, New York Is My Home is solid from front to back. What makes it a memorable album, though, are the two songs — one he wrote with longtime collaborator Mike Aquilina and Dictators/Del-Lords guitarist Scott Kempner, another written with Kempner — that are more in line with DiMucci’s singer-songwriter period.
The meditative, sparse title track is full of rich lyrics about DiMucci’s beloved stomping grounds: “I hear a gospel hymn in every passing crowd … I can touch the world as it sails in from everywhere.” Fellow longtime New Yorker Paul Simon blends in nicely, whether singing with DiMucci or taking a solo turn on detailed lines that could very well come from one of his own lyrically-astute songs: “The breezes blow that take me where the Hudson River flows/The harbor lights shine on the piers, as all young lovers know.”
“Visionary Heart” makes reference to guitar duels and changing weather in February, with the protagonist — sensing his time is running out — passing on his dreams to another, urging him to “carry on, my brother.” Given DiMucci’s well-documented life and career, it’s safe to assume he’s singing from the viewpoint of his late Winter Dance Party tour mate Buddy Holly. At the time of his death, Holly called New York home, too, so it’s fitting for DiMucci to include “Visionary Heart” on this album. It’s one that his remaining peers can look to for inspiration should they feel the itch to record again.
— By Chris M. Junior