Dion, “Sanctuary” from Recorded Live at the Bitter End, August 1971 (2015)

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Though Dion will always be best remembered for his work with the Belmonts and as a solo artist, there was far more to him than “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.” He made a notable foray into contemplative singer-songwriter fare at the turn of the 1970s, did some faith-based albums thereafter and, more recently, very credibly focused on blues.

Recorded Live at the Bitter End, August 1971 finds him in the midst of the former exploration, as Dion DiMucci is captured alone — only guitar in hand — during a long-unreleased concert performance at Greenwich Village’s storied folkie haunt. “Sanctuary,” a searching, darkly personal ode, advances this April 7, 2015 release, which finally — finally! — is arriving via Omnivore. This show followed Dion’s move into more mature song styles with 1968’s “Abraham, Martin and John” — a Dick Holler composition written in tribute to a trio of American martyrs — but “Sanctuary” is different. The title track from a then-new blues-inflected folk album, this is smaller scale, more personal, and more powerful, in its way.

Elsewhere on Recorded Live at the Bitter End, August 1971, as expected, you’ll find stripped-down takes on Dion’s most treasured hits, along with updates of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy.” But much of that brings with it baggage from another era, contextual weight that makes it difficult to digest as a stand-alone item. Even in ’71, there was a lot of water under Dion’s bridge, and we’ve come another four-and-a-half decades since.

“Sanctuary” arrives unburdened by such history, largely unheard in the years since — and thus filled with more thrumming, unexpected energy. This is Dion pushing forward into a new musical frontier, when others might have been content to settle into the oldies circuit, even as he completes the musical DNA of future stars like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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