Dion’s Lost “Kickin’ Child” (Album Review)

Dion DiMucci remains one of the most underappreciated great early rock and rollers.  Yes, everyone knows his work with the Belmonts and later on classic songs like “Runaround Sue.”  But fans and critics often unjustly overlook other phases of Dion’s career.

Such is the case with his folk-rock work from the 1960s (as well as his blues music).  Fortunately, Dion – Kickin’ Child 1965 Columbia Recordings — an album that would have been at the forefront of the folk-rock movement had it been released in 1965 when it was recorded in the Spring and Fall of that year — has finally been released.

The 15 songs on the album produced by Tom Wilson include ten written or co-written by Dion, as well as three Bob Dylan songs. One of the Dylan covers is a wonderful bluesy version of “Baby I’m in the Mood For You.”

Some of the songs would later appear on compilations, but the album never saw the light of day until now because Columbia refused to release it.  Listening to the album now, it is impossible to understand that decision.  But I am glad we can enjoy it now.

For example, one may easily imagine an alternate universe where the album was released in 1965.  In that universe, “My Child” became a hit that forms the soundtrack of our memories of the 1960s.

Dion recently explained to Billboard how he left the record label after they refused to release Kickin’ Child. For decades, the experience gave Dion bad memories.

But when Dion recently listened to the remastered album, “The cloud lifted like vapor. It just lifted right out of my head. And I heard the music loud and clear like it was present to me. It wasn’t a novelty. It was rich. It was artistic, it was heartfelt. It was live. It was the real deal. And I said, ‘Man, this stuff is good.’ And I was proud of it.’”

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Dion’s cover of Tom Paxton’s “I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound.”

The liner notes explain how Dion’s work at this time influenced others, even without the release of Kickin’ Child.  For example, he suggested to Wilson to add an electric band to Bob Dylan’s “House of the Rising Sun” (Dylan loved it).

Critics are now giving the album some of the attention it should have received more than fifty years ago.  For example, Allmusic understandably calls Kickin’ Child “absolutely one of the greatest folk-rock records ever.” American Songwriter gives the album four out of five stars.

Dion’s voice is in fine form. And the band from the Fall 1965 recording sessions — The Wanderers — has a great sound. The group included included The Belmonts’ Carlo Mastrangelo on drums.

Another standout track is “Knowing I Won’t Go Back There.”  The song, written by Dion, previously appeared on the compilation album Road I’m On (another Dion album worth seeking out).

Kickin Child is a wonderful album, and anyone who loves music from the 1960s folk and folk-rock scene should definitely check it out.

Dion has mentioned that there exists other unreleased music from this era.  So, hopefully there will be more coming as we continue to reassess the great career of Dion.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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Matthew Ryan’s “Hustle Up Starlings” (Review)

Matthew Ryan has released a number of consistently excellent albums since is wonderful debut album, May Day, in 1997. While all of his albums are worth seeking out, two decades into his recording career he is garnering growing attention for his two most recent albums, Boxers (2014) and his new album Hustle Up Starlings (2017), which may be the most Matthew-Ryan-sounding album of his career. And that is a great thing.

Matthew Ryan is a poet who rocks, with sounds ranging from the rage of punk to the rasp of a whisper. Music writers have compared him to a variety of artists, including Springsteen and Dylan, but comparisons fall away on the new album. Whether it is the maturing of an artist who recently had a crisis of considering giving up on a career — or inspiration from producer Brian Fallon from The Gaslight Anthem — or the maturing of an artist — or something else, Hustle Up Starlings brings together the best qualities of Matthew Ryan’s talent for music and lyrics.

A number of reviewers have raved about the album.  And Ryan himself has been giving a lot of interviews to promote the album. It is clear that this project is something he really believes in, and rightfully so.

Hustle Up Starlings

When I first heard the name of the album before its release, I wondered about the odd album title and what was a “hustle up starlings.” The title track, though, is a key to the album. It both reflects Ryan’s poetic instincts (who else would coin that expression?) and themes underlying the album.

The album is not about modern politics, but it captures the anguish of our current political climate and underlying angst. “Hustle Up Starlings,” one of the slower songs on the album, is on its surface about what most great songs are about, love (or lost love).  The singer looks back, remembering meeting a woman in a record store in 1991.

But “Hustle Up Starlings” is not so much a song about loss but a song about the fear of loss: “The things we love will one day disappear / First slow and then so quick.” And the title comes from the final lines of the song about seeking safety before something bad happens: ” Hustle up, starlings / The bats are coming / The night’s tuning up /And dusk is humming.”

Other Tracks

This theme of the fear of loss — or fighting against the fear of loss- runs through many songs on the album. The opening song, “(I Just Died) Like an Aviator” begins with the line, “Everything sucks,” but ends with a plea for survival (“Don’t die, don’t disappear/ I swear to God we need you here”).

We previously posted the official video for “(I Just Died) Like an Aviator,” but if you missed it then, it is worth checking out below.

The album’s themes may also be summed up by the closing lines of “Battle Born”: “Screaming hope in the land of the lost / Oh oh ’till the wheels come off.” That is what Ryan is doing here, “screaming hope,” fighting against the fear that one day the wheels will come off.

Of course, these themes underlie all our lives. We all know deep down that — like the aviator referenced in the opening track, none of us are getting out of here alive. But we have to keep hoping for something.  Maybe we all are trying to find that place mentioned in the closing song called “Where Summer Never Ends.”

Another highlight on the album is the song “Run Rabbit Run.” I have read some interviews with Ryan and have not seen any mention of a connection between this song and John Updike’s classic 1960 novel of middle-class angst, Rabbit Run. Maybe the similarity in the titles is a mere coincidence. But it would be a strange coincidence if Ryan was not thinking of the novel at all.  The song revisits themes from the novel, as Ryan sings about working long hours “just to get by.”

Where Ryan’s Rabbit differs from Updike’s Rabbit, though, is that the novel’s “running” cures nothing. But in Ryan’s song — echoing Springsteen’s epic running song “Born to Run” about a “death trap” in a town that “rips the bones from your back” — Ryan’s plea to run still holds out some hope.

It’s a trap,
Always pulling blades
From your back.

And it goes on and on and on;
Don’t get stuck, just run rabbit run.

Sometimes, like in “Bastard,” one can work to convince yourself that you are better off after a loss: “I’m feeling better / Now that we’re apart.”

On that song, and the other songs of the album, Ryan shows he is at the top of his game in not only writing lyrics but in the music. The music is memorable throughout the album and you’ll find yourself singing along and tapping your foot while the lyrics whistle past the graveyard of possible despair.

Ryan has noted that his goal with Hustle Up Starlings was to put together a cohesive album. He explained, “this is what we do though, even when the world feels like it’s about to burn down, we keep leaning for tomorrow in our own lives and stories and families. It’s all hope and perseverance. We get up and we go to work. We believe in tomorrow, even when we’re not sure what tomorrow will be.”

“The Cracks In Your Broken Heart”

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Close Your Eyes.” The song also works hard to provide the listener with some hope: “Now it won’t always be easy / But it won’t always be hard / Just listen to the cracks / In your broken heart.”

And maybe that is what Ryan is trying to say with this album:  We all need to remember that sometimes you can find some hope in the cracks of a broken heart.

I have introduced several people to the music of this native of Chester, Pennsylvania. I think now I may start encouraging the use of Hustle Up Starlings as a great place to start to delve into his wonderful catalog.

Photo by Scott Simontacchi. What is your favorite song on the new album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Matthew Ryan: “(I Just Died) Like an Aviator”
  • Dion’s Lost “Kickin’ Child” (Album Review)
  • Otis Redding: Soul Manifesto (Short Review)
  • Matthew Ryan’s “Then She Threw Me Like a Hand Grenade” (Song of the Day)
  • Official Video for Matthew Ryan’s “Boxers”
  • Matthew Ryan: “Boxers”
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Otis Redding: Soul Manifesto (Short Review)

    There is little reason not to own the Otis Redding box set Soul Manifesto: 1964-1970. The twelve-CD set set features eight studio and live records recorded during Reddings’ lifetime and four posthumous albums. The set features no extras beyond the music. But it comes to Redding, the music is enough.

    Albums in the Set

    Rhino released the set as part of its Original Album Series. The five studio albums released between 1964 and 1967 during Redding’s lifetime are: Pain in My Heart, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, The Soul Album, Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, and King & Queen (a duet album with Carla Thomas). The classic live albums are Live in Europe and In Person at the Whisky a Go Go. And the four studio albums released between 1968 and 1970 after Redding’s death are: The Dock of the Bay, The Immortal Otis Redding, Love Man, and Tell the Truth.

    That is a lot of Otis Redding. Although Soul Manifesto was released in late 2015, it has taken me awhile to savor the music. Of course, the big question for music fans is whether or not they need all of these albums.

    Do Fans Need All of These Albums?

    The answer for most fans is yes. I already owned the outstanding three-CD set The Otis Redding Story (1989). A lot of fans may have the excellent 2-CD collection, Dreams to Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology (1998). A great 4-CD collection is Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding (1993). Unfortunately, the latter set seems to be out of print.

    Of course, there are some good single CD collections. So one may easily find a lot of the big songs, like “Shake,” “Respect,” “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song),” “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Mr. Pitiful,” and “Try a Little Tenderness.”

    But if you really love Otis Redding, there is never enough. Going back through the original albums collected in Soul Manifesto, one hears a special consistency in Redding’s career. There are no bad songs. Yes, you recognize some songs more than others, but each album is excellent in its own right.

    You know a lot of the hits, but the twelve CDs give you the chance to listen to Otis Redding fresh, hearing songs that you never heard before in the order they were released. You get to start with “Pain in My Heart” opening his first album and then go though both hits and lesser-known songs. You get his first posthumous album with “Dock of the Bay,” which still leaves us pondering what more Redding would have accomplished had he not died in a plane crash at the age of 26.

    No Extras In This Set

    Of course, it would be great if the albums featured extras or included special liner notes. Some fans may want to wait and hope for more re-releases of the individual albums with extras.

    For example, Rhino already released a special edition of Redding’s classic third album Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965). The collector’s edition of Otis Blue not only includes the original album in both mono and stereo. And it also includes rarities, alternate mixes, and live versions of the album tracks. Pitchfork gave a glowing review to that special edition.

    Two Big Reasons to Get Soul Manifesto

    There are two reasons, though, one might still want to buy the bare-bones Soul Manifesto: 1964-1970 and get all the albums in one place as they were released. First, the price is great. You may buy Soul Manifesto and get all twelve Otis Redding CDs for around $50 on places like Amazon (the mp3 version is more expensive, so get the CDs and burn them).

    The second reason to get Soul Manifesto? It is a ton of great music by one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

    What is your favorite Otis Redding album or song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • The 1966 Otis Redding TV Special
  • Otis Redding’s Tragic Plane Crash in Wisconsin
  • Time Is On My Side
  • Dion’s Lost “Kickin’ Child” (Album Review)
  • Matthew Ryan’s “Hustle Up Starlings” (Review)
  • Sturgill Simpson: “You Don’t Miss Your Water”
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)