Tank Full of Blues (Blue Horizon)
By Brian Arsenault
I was in kind of a bad mood and prepared to take a real snooty attitude about Tank Full of Blues by old rocker Dion. Then these clean guitar licks kicked off the album and it was like I just walked into a darkened blues club smelling of beer and barbecue where this tight little band was just launching a set.
The title song sets a strong pace that the rest of the album sustains throughout. The strengths are many:
– A stripped down three piece band with Dion singing and playing neat blues guitar.
– A terrific rhythm section of Bob Guertin and Robert Guertin. Are they the same guy? They play so well together that they could be.
– A steady stream of songs that just make you want to get up and move about and thank god, as Dion’s self written liner notes say, for “bodies that respond to a backbeat.” It’s enough to make you dance alone in your own den even if you are old enough to know better.
This is a guy who had hits in the prehistoric days of rock when it had barely defined itself in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. But by now it’s known that’s no reason to dismiss him. I mean I’ve known white guys can play the blues since I first heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band years ago but I just didn’t expect this album to be so good.
The publicity sheet on the album has Dion supposedly spouting an overwrought definition of the blues as “the naked cry of the human heart.” But the album proves that the purpose of the blues is to make you feel better when you don’t.
The opening bars of “You Keep Me Cryin” have a true John Lee Hooker quality and I can’t say anything better about a blues song than that. This song had me bouncing in my chair when I was trying to take notes. So I stopped and just bounced.
“Do You Love Me Baby” has a classic blues quality and an intelligent lyric about the complexities of your relationship with your woman. “My Baby’s Cryin’” continues that exploration about a man who would change if he could — most of us fit there, maybe — but at least “shoulda shut my mouth.” Maybe all of us fit there.
About the only two songs on the album that aren’t pure stripped down blues are “I Read It (In the Rolling Stone),” a humorous reflection on what it takes to stay hip, and the closing “Bronx Poem.”
“Bronx Poem” touches a lot of idioms from spoken beat poetry, to doo wop to rock ‘n’ roll (of course) and even a touch of rap. Dion tells us he’s “got aces up my sleeve.” Yep.
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