Gary "U.S." Bonds had been lurking on the fringes of the oldies circuit for the better part of twenty years when Bruce Springsteen gave the guy a well-earned break and co-produced 1981's Dedication, which doubtless represented a bit of payback after Springsteen had been playing Bonds' 1961 hit "Quarter to Three" on-stage for close to a decade. Anyone who thought of this an act of charity on Springsteen's part got a pleasant surprise after listening to the album; the years had turned Bonds into a mature and forceful soul shouter, and he was more than capable of making something of the material given to him. Springsteen's presence is audible on "Jolé Blon No. 2" and the title cut, but Bonds sounds equally impressive (if not more so) when he gets the stage all to himself on "This Little Girl," "Way Back When" and a cover of the Beatles
' "It's Only Love," while Steven Van Zandt's "Daddy's Come Home" is a soul maven's masterstroke. Dedication leads off this two-fer reissue disc from American Beat Records, and while Bonds' 1982 follow-up On the Line
didn't sell nearly as well, played back to back it becomes evident that On the Line
is actually the stronger album. Unlike Dedication, On the Line
had the same production team for all 11 tunes (Springsteen and Van Zandt), and Springsteen wrote the lion's share of the album, giving it a more consistent tone and voice. And Bonds is in even better form here than on Dedication; he sounds as if he's out to prove that the strength of his comeback album was no fluke, and on tunes like "Out of Work," "Love's on the Line" and "Club Soul City" (which features a vocal cameo from Chuck Jackson
), he delivers some of the finest work of his career. Unfortunately, On the Line
loses its final track, "Last Time," in order to fit these two LPs onto one disc, but otherwise this is an excellent collection of music from a man who deserves better than to be remembered as a novelty act or some superstar's pet project.