With 2020’s Blues With Friends receiving a warm reception, the mononymous rock and roll hall of famer known only as Dion returns with Stomping Ground. His second record with KTBA (Keeping The Blues Alive) finds him teaming up again with producer Wayne Hood and longtime songwriting partner Mike Aquilina. Like its predecessor, the album features blues-oriented collaborations with another all-star cast. Some of the contributors have returned, but there are also a few new players thrown into the mix for this effort of mostly original songs.
Besides the quality of the songs themselves, one of the best facets of this collection is the way in which each track has just enough contribution and musical personality of the guest, while not allowing them to dominate the tune. The compositions are all Dion, but it’s to his credit and that of his collaborators, they have enough experience to know how to share the spotlight. Beyond some great instrumental interplay and Dion’s authentic lived-in voice, the balance of personalities are what best bring these tracks to life.
Guitar driven rhythms and motifs dominate the first half of the albums—and for good reason. With names like Clapton, Knopfler, Bonamassa, and Landreth, listeners likely expect (and hope for) some considerable guitar showmanship. However, these veterans do one better by taking a very considered approach to their playing. Most of the songs don’t require astonishing finger flurries or overwrought and explosive distortion, so, being at or near the pinnacle of their craft, they don’t feel compelled to show off. Joe Bonamassa trades great guitar licks with Dion’s verses on “Take It Back,” but excels as a compliment, not the main attraction. On the double entendre, “If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Eric Clapton gives a master class on how great a simple blues rhythm can sound with some soul. Mark Knopfler’s unmistakable style shines through on “Dancing Girl” as does Peter Frampton’s on “There Was A Time,” but both keep it subdued. And G.E. Smith’s and Sonny Landreth’s understated finess on “Hey Diddle Diddle” and “Cryin’ Shame” turn in two of the best performances on two of the Stomping Ground’s best songs.
While it would be tempting to put guitar ace Joe Menza’s work on “The Night Is Young” in the first grouping of tracks, the song itself signals a shift in the album’s character. With numerous references to New York City nightlife, it’s a fitting pivot for an album whose cover depicts the entrance to the Broad Street subway station in Lower Manhattan. Most of the remaining tracks tend to lessen their focus on guitar and add in a few more instrumental timbres and lyrical themes. This is true with both “That’s What The Doctor Said” and “My Stomping Ground.” The three male/female duets standout for their variety and excellent harmonies. Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen combine to make the haunting “Angel In The Alleyways” an unforgettable candidate for repeated listens.
If there is one regret it may be the brevity of the album’s singular cover, “Red House.” Dion and Keb’ Mo’ tackle the classic in such a unique way that some listeners may wish that the song lasted a bit longer. As it is, it is the shortest number of the set. However, that’s one very small complaint on one of the best tracks on a very formidable album.
Many collaborative albums fall into the trap of fighting tooth and nail to find marketable gimmickry that might appeal to the masses, or bring an older artist back into the spotlight. On Stomping Ground it feels like the goal is to create some classic, high-quality tunes for the sake of the music itself. It might not be the most original of concepts, but it is one of the best examples of serious musicians coming together to make an album whose varied strengths reveal themselves with each subsequent listening.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Hey Diddle Diddle
– Cryin’ Shame
– Angel In The Alleyways
– Red House
The Big Hit
– Cryin’ Shame