More than any of his 1950s-vintage peers, Dion DiMucci has consistently reinvented himself, bypassing the ever-dwindling oldies circuit in favor of forays into roots-rock, gospel and — on his just-issued “Bronx in Blue” album — unreconstructed blues.
Parking himself on a stool placed center-stage from the onset of the perf, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer served unspoken notice that he wasn’t going to be dipping into the catalog he amassed as leader of the Belmonts. The partisan aud — which offered plenty of outer-borough-accented encouragement — didn’t seem to object to Dion’s decision, finger-popping along with virtually every tune.
DiMucci didn’t completely ignore his past, digging out an impassioned reading of “Abraham, Martin and John” and a brace of spiritually centered ’80s tunes.
By and large, however, he concentrated on hard-scrabble classics, wringing plenty of grit from foot-stomping takes on Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” and Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do.”
While he punctuated the set with remembrances from back in the day — from an encounter with Howlin’ Wolf that left him quaking in his boots to a dialogue with a Bronx priest that kept his ego in check — the singer didn’t seem as if he was prepping for a one-man show. That artless affability, along with a good bit of self-deflating humor, imbued most of the perf’s songs, a state of affairs that proved a mixed blessing.
There’s no disputing Dion’s affinity for the blues — which he demonstrated through his spot-on phrasing and surprisingly deft slide-guitar playing that shone through despite some decidedly frustrating tuning problems. But his generally sunny demeanor was better suited to the gruff sensuality of songs like Willie Dixon’s “Built for Comfort” than to the darker corners of, say, “Crossroads,” which he nailed in sound but not in spirit.
Most of the set, however, confirmed a self-assessment that the 66-year-old tossed out midset. Recounting an interviewer’s query about whether singing the blues was a stretch for him, he replied, with a smile that belied his earnestness, “No — it was a stretch to sing ‘Teenager in Love.’ “