Dion's latest album - as he says "With a young heart and a passion to capture the wonder of the music I grew up with. This album is an expression of joy to you - my friends".
It's been eight years since we've had an album of original material from Dion. That would seem a long time for any run-of-the-mill recording artist but if you consider that Dion began his career in 1957 and has been releasing songs of the highest quality on a regular basis ever since, you can forgive the slow down in output in what is now his sixth decade as one of the world's greatest rock'n'roll stars.
Dion fans throughout the world have often looked to Ace Records for his product, and for the past twenty years or so we've been able to find the bulk of Dion's (and the Belmonts' for that matter) output on the label at one time or another. So I was delighted to hear that Ace were going to be releasing a "brand new" Dion album for the first time - just reward for their years of good work, in my opinion.
Déjà Nu has eleven songs which could be right out of the late fifties or early sixties, Dion has intentionally kept the production technique to a bare minimum to capture the original spirit of the songs that made him famous like Runaround Sue or The Wanderer.
His voice has changed over the years so don't expect the soaring vocals of a teenage Italian street-corner singer. The Dion of today still has an unmistakable voice and good range but he concentrates more on the lyrics and structure of his songs.
The first track on the album is a perfect example - Shu Bop (The Lost Track), a beautiful piece of Bronx doo wop, skilfully put together and executed in what has became known as the "neo-doo wop" style. With a bass vocal intro and skip-a-long beat, Dion brings us right back to 1959, sitting on the stoop of a tenement in an Italian section of New York, watching the girls walking by.
The backing vocalists on this and many of the other tracks contain none other than the Passions' (Just To Be With You) lead singer Jimmy Gallagher. Jimmy has one of the best voices from the sixties and complements Dion's new easier sound perfectly.
Dion wrote or co-wrote all but two songs on the CD, the first of which is a cover of Bruce Springsteen's Book Of Dreams. This follows his cover of the Boss' If I Should Fall Behind back in 1992 and is treated in a similar fashion with only a light guitar backing and some tambourine accompaniment. This ballad is beautifully sung with Dion's sincere lead and lush vocal group backing. It's sure to be one of the most popular cuts on the album.
The second cover is You Move Me written by Scott Kempner (ex Dictators and Del Lords) who also co-wrote two other tracks here. Scott and Dion got together back in 1996 to write some songs and hit it off so well that they formed a group (The Little Kings) and spent several months performing in clubs and bars around New York playing what could only be described as hardcore rock and roll - it was very different for Dion at the time but it gave him a much needed shot of enthusiasm to continue with his song writing and recording career.
You Move Me appeared as a bonus track on a compilation album back in 1997 with the Little Kings line-up performing - the version here is a brand new cut using the same 50s approach as the rest of the album, using keyboards and sax to roll the song along.
Dion takes us back to his days as a blues artist on Columbia with the smoochie If You Wanna Rock & Roll and even further back to the Winter Dance Party Tour of 1959 with Hug My Radiator. He began writing this song on the ice-cold coach during the infamous tour of the frozen north with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. He finished the song many years later with his long time writing partner Bill Tuohy and first performed it with the Little Kings during their NY club tour of 1996. He has included it in his live set over the past few years and fans will be glad to see it committed to CD at last.
If, like me, you've followed Dion's career over the years, you will love In New York City as it captures precisely what a Dion song is, and why we continue to support him. It is a Bill Tuohy collaboration (as most of his best later work is) and is an absolute "knock 'em dead" ballad. It's just a perfect piece of work and is by far one of the best songs he's written in years. A reflection on an anniversary night he spent with his wife, it illustrates that he has lost none of his composition skills and feeling for a good tune - again capturing the spirit of the fifties without falling into the nostalgia trap that so many recording artists of his generation seem to get caught in.
In fact that sums up Déjà Nu for me, yes it's a modern recording, and yes he uses modern equipment but he has a feel for the "oldies sound" without using the "remember the old days" lyrics and sentiments you hear so often from his contemporaries. It oozes class and that's something you always get from a Dion album - CLASS!
by Gordon Watson
Feelin' No Pain - Doo Wop Magazine