I Put Away My Idols/Kingdom in the Streets

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Ace continues its ambitious program of Dion reissues with this pair of mid-'80s recordings for Christian labels. First off, Ace deserves plaudits for even making these recordings available. Dion's catalog has been largely unavailable in the United States for a decade at least. The box set has tracks from all of his periods, but just whets the appetite. I Put Away My Idols was originally released on the Day Spring label in 1983. Full of power chord guitars, synthesizers, and drum machines, it is very much a product of its time, production-wise. But the songs are what endure. Many fans were/are uncomfortable with Dion's faith and its prominence in his work from the period, but it made him no less a street-corner poet who found a way in from the cold. Anchored in contemporary pop and rock, Dion's singing here was as deeply moving and soulful as it remains today: direct, inviting, full of simple personal revelation and Bronx soul. The title cut and Bob Smith's "Daddy," the two hinge-pieces on the set, are a testament to the timelessness of the singer whose gospel evangelizing (no matter how naïve it seems) is genuinely one of sharing -- what to him is good news, not fire-and-brimstone judgment. Kingdom in the Street is the stronger of the two albums, and was issued on Myrrh in 1985. The keyboards are still in the mix but they sound a bit more organic, and most of the drums are live. Most importantly, Dion brings the full power of his trademark meld of early rock and soul to bear on each track here. From the opener, "Still in the Spirit," with its backing vocalists supporting him, his effortless tenor croons, coos, and soars through an easy, airy gospel groove. "Crazy Too (Have Fallen in Love)" is doo wop gospel at its finest, complete with shama lama, shoo be doos, and oohs and ahhs as well as a gritty meat-and-potatoes saxophone. Of Dion's originals, "Only God Can Change a Heart" is a searing urban poem with driving synthesizers and electric guitars over a drum machine and a live kit. "Come to the Cross" could have been issued during Dion's late-'60s folk period; it's earthy compared to the rest of the album, with piano and harpsichord underlining the vocal. "Come to the Cross" is a fine tome with a lyric full of confession and surrender, framed by gorgeous orchestration and arrangement -- particularly in the interplay between the piano and harpsichord -- and shot through with a distorted electric guitar solo. This two-fer won't be everyone's cup of tea (not even Dion fans perhaps), but a close listen with an open mind will yield musical rewards to be sure. No one can sing like this. No one. [Collectables reissued I Put Away My Idols/Kingdom in the Streets in the U.S. in 2010].

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