Dion & the Belmonts

Reunion: Live at Madison Square Garden

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There's a huge amount to recommend this record (originally titled Dion & the Belmonts Live 1972), in its original form or on CD. It it a warmly nostalgic yet well played and very well sung concert recording, made at a one-time-only reunion on June 2, 1972 at Madison Square Garden. For a lot of fans of R&B vocals, and especially those from New York, this was roughly the equivalent of the Beatles getting back together -- you get a hint of the crowd reaction from the explosive and very real applause that greets "Runaround Sue" and rises every so often during its seven minutes. It also happened with the microphones placed right and the tape machines rolling, the result being possibly the best record to come out of the whole early-'70s rock & roll revival (and the best sounding record ever to come out of Madison Square Garden). The years hadn't been easy on Dion, what with the drug problems he'd overcome, but he and the Belmonts (Angelo D'Aleo, Carlo Mastrangelo, Fred Milano) had weathered the '60s well enough, and all were still in superb voice -- good enough that one rehearsal put them in a groove to perform versions of "I Wonder Why," "A Teenager in Love," "The Wanderer," "Ruby Baby," "Where or When," and "Runaround Sue" that were a match for (and sometimes even better than) the classic originals. But beyond the particulars of the music, there's a compelling quality to this record, even 27 years later, that's eerie. You can throw on this CD, knowing that this concert was performed during an era when people the same age as this audience were impaling themselves psychically over Vietnam and Richard Nixon, deteriorating race relations, and the ripping apart of generations within the same families, and general rage and anger all over the streets of America, and suddenly, the listener is in a world where, for 40 minutes, all of those troubles suddenly recede to 1960 levels. (Whether that's bad or good is another matter). One should also compare this recording to Dion's live performance from the Bitter End of some of the same repertory on the 1973 Warner Bros. release Sanctuary -- those are more intimate interpretations, the work of a singer/songwriter expressing himself, less joyous and formulaic, but more personal.

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