Dion New Masters

by David Scott

Liner Notes to New Masters
(Collectibles Records, 2003)

Not long ago, the legendary Dion walked into a Miami recording studio accompanied by some old friends — longtime members of his blistering road band along with some of the best doo-wop harmony singers in the business.

Quietly, without publicity or fanfare, for next few weeks they set to work — laying down all-new versions of Dion’s classic hits, a few tributes to other pioneers of rock’s first generation, and some brand new songs, including a beautiful ballad Dion composed for his wife (“Behind Susan’s Eyes”) and a stunning response on the terrorist attacks of September 11 (“Come Heal This Land”).

What you hold in your hand are the fruits of those unforgettable sessions. These are truly new masters by one of the giants of rock ‘n’ roll. Dion’s voice is in rare form — by turns aching and soaring, bluesy and transcendent, edgy and knowing. The band is tight, tearing through a set that tracks Dion’s restless musical pilgrimage through styles ranging from doo-wop and roots-rock to blues and folk.

He treats the old songs like the classics they are. Faithful to the originals, the renditions here sound like new songs — and that’s only partly the result of the modern digital recording techniques he makes use of. There is a depth of emotion and meaning in these cuts that the originals could only suggest.

“A Teenager in Love” sounds like a hymn to the healing power of love. The unplugged “Abraham, Martin and John,” has a weary wisdom about it that should again make it an anthem—this time for a post-9/11 world. “Love Came to Me” gives us the chance to hear the man that Dion has become — a seeker whose search took him into the heart of Saturday night and back again, who found that the love he was seeking, all along was searching for him, too.

All the hits are here — “I Wonder Why,” “Ruby Baby,” “The Wanderer” and more. But it’s the new songs—“Behind Susan’s Eyes” and “Come Heal This Land”—that remind us how important Dion is. Among the parade of great talent from the dawn of the rock era, Dion alone has remained a creative force, a street poet giving voice to all that makes our hearts light and sets our spirits free.