In “My Stomping Ground,” the driving, horn-stoked rocker that gives his new album its title, Dion is back in the Bronx, where as a youth he first fell in love with music, from doo-wop to the blues. He spies three boys singing on a corner, noting how one looks a lot like him, “lost in the ecstasy.”
As Stomping Ground affirms, the passion, ambition, and creative spirit that fueled the young Dion DiMucci has not diminished for the now-82-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. The singer who could express both the adolescent angst of “A Teenager in Love” and the swaggering machismo of “The Wanderer” has lost none of the suppleness, clarity, and power that always characterized his voice. And that vocal strength reflects the overall vibrancy of the music, with 13 of the 14 tracks being Dion co-writes.
On “My Stomping Ground,” Dion is joined by ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons, whose guitar helps give the song its bluesy bite. Gibbons is one of the few repeat guests from 2020’s Blues With Friends, on which Dion was joined by an array of stars. He follows the same template here, and again the guests enhance his vision without overshadowing him.
Another returnee, Joe Bonamassa, helps get the album off to a rousing start with “Take It Back,” a kiss-off featuring quintessential Dion street attitude, while G.E. Smith puts some sting into another tough rocker, “Hey Diddle Diddle.” And if you didn’t get the message by this point, Dion also teams with Eric Clapton to remind us that, “If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll, baby, don’t you know I can.”
Dion and Boz Scaggs have a ball trading verses on the roadhouse rocker “I Got to Get to You,” while Sonny Landreth adds his inimitable chunky but fluid slide guitar to the propulsive “Cryin’ Shame.” (Also offering striking slide work is Keb’ Mo’ on a take on Hendrix’s “Red House.”)
As Bruce Springsteen once observed, Dion would have fit in both the Rat Pack and the E Street Band. While he never became the supper-club crooner some record executives hoped he would be (he just wanted to sing the blues), he offers more examples here of how effective he can be when revealing a romantic and reflective side. It’s in the longing of “Dancing Girl” (with Mark Knopfler), the regretful ruminations of “There Was a Time” (with Peter Frampton), and “The Night Is Young” (with guitarists Joe Menza and album co-producer Wayne Hood), which seems to reflect the restless, questing spirit of Dion himself: “The city’s mine, but I still want more.”
Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, also repeat guests from Blues With Friends, contribute to the gospel echoes of “Angel in the Alleyways,” while “That’s What the Doctor Said,” a tribute to Dr. John, takes an earthier turn, toward New Orleans, with Steve Conn providing the funky piano. Another master of the 88s, Marcia Ball, kick-starts the boogie on “I Got My Eyes on You Baby.”
The set ends on a moody, evocative note with Dion and Rickie Lee Jones duetting on “I’ve Been Watching,” which conveys a sense of hard-won wisdom.
Back in “My Stomping Ground,” Dion boasts, “If we had kings, I would be crowned.” Listening to how this all-time great still taps into his original sources of inspiration without trading on past glories, you have to agree: He is musical royalty.