Sanctuary/Suite for Late Summer

by: Dion

Dion had firmly shed his former skin as a '50s and early-'60s rock teen idol for singer/songwriter clothes by the time he made these two albums in the early '70s. That was a welcome development, as demonstrated by the strength of his prior work in the late '60s and the early '70s. However, by this time he -- like many singer/songwriters -- was sliding into laid-back production and material that couldn't help but be inferior to his best efforts in the genre. He sounds like a somewhat bluesier James Taylor on the studio cuts of 1971's Sanctuary. It might not be accurate to accuse Dion of imitation here, as it's possible Taylor himself borrowed from Dion, but that doesn't mean the songs are outstanding. They're only OK, sometimes rising a bit above that, as on "Sunshine Lady," which like many of his songs of the period has the sense of a man prone to extreme self-reflection after going through the worst of his hard times. Some nice female harmony vocals boost "Harmony Sound" but, overall, the production (with lead guitar and dobro by Dave Bromberg) is too complacently tasteful. A slow folk-blues rearrangement of his old hit, "The Wanderer," can't measure up to the original, but at least provides a new take on an old warhorse. The inclusion of three acoustic songs done live at the Bitter End in New York, including versions of two other old hits ("Ruby Baby" and "Abraham, Martin and John"), contribute to the sense of a record running on lower than full inspiration. Released in 1972, Suite for Late Summer is likewise the work of a singer/songwriter with a very above-average voice but average songs, with Russ Titelman's production on the lush side. There's a sluggish introspection to most of the tracks, and the occasional injection of melodic melancholy, as on "Soft Parade of Years" or the classical string arrangement embroidering "It All Fits Together," does it quite a bit of good. "Jennifer Knew," though, has to count as one of the highlights of his post-'60s work, with memorably haunting passages and strings that just about manage to enhance the drama rather than deaden it. The CD is filled out by three unremarkable additional tracks from the mid-'70s. ~ Richie Unterberger

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