Recorded at the famed Greenwich Village folk club, Live at the Bitter End 1971 showcases singer/songwriter Dion performing a spectacular solo set of covers and originals. Having long moved away from the doo wop and rock & roll sound of his earlier work fronting the Belmonts, the Dion DiMucci we get here is a soulful, ruminative, yet still comedically wry (listen to his between-song banter) folksinger. This album comes two years after his self-titled foray into socially conscious folk and baroque pop, and a year after his first all-acoustic studio album, 1970's Sit Down Old Friend. Although he scored one of his biggest hits in 1968 with Dick Holler's "Abraham, Martin and John," the dissonance between his initial swinging, sharkskin suit-wearing image and his transformation into a soulful, introspective folkie meant that as good a singer as he was, a lot of people tended to undervalue -- or even overlook -- this period in his career. The truth was that Dion's highly resonant vocal chops and intuitive knack for delivering emotive melodies, not to mention his skilled fingerpicking abilities, made for superb folk performances. With his uniquely virtuosic singing, informed as much by blues artists like Son House and Robert Johnson as modern singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Dion shared much in common with contemporaries like Tim Buckley, John Sebastian, and James Taylor. In fact, his opening reworking of Bob Dylan's "Mama, You've Been on My Mind" hardly resembles Dylan at all. It has much more in common with the atmospheric style of Nick Drake and Terry Callier. Similarly, the Holler-penned title track to his 1972 album, "Sanctuary," is an utterly poignant, melancholic masterpiece that you can't believe you haven't heard more often. And it's not just the sad songs that make an impact here. Dion never fully let go of his rock & roll roots, and here we get a revelatory take on Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" as well as bluesy reworkings of his early Dion & the Belmonts hits "Ruby Baby" and "The Wanderer." Add to this several of Dion's own compositions, like his poetic ode to marital fidelity in the state of Florida (where he lived at the time) "Sunniland" and his tribute to hard-earned sobriety "Your Own Backyard," and Live at the Bitter End 1971 reveals Dion as a former rock idol transformed into an earthy, soulful, utterly transfixing artist.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar