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.

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