April 3, 2023
Photo: Sam Gehrke.

The debate about who is or was the greatest ever rock singer is one that all music fans will have been involved in at some time or another and, as with all things, the answer is always down to personal taste. For many Elvis was and remains The King but there have been many pretenders to the crown, the list is ever-growing, and I will not start adding names here as the list would quite simply be never ending!

Having said that, the legendary Ronnie James Dio is up there with the best and, in my humble opinion, he is the undisputed number one and his position in the rock firmament is truly guaranteed. Sadly, the titan left this world 10th May 2010 but he left it a much better place for having him in it yet music never dies and his legacy continues to capture new rock fans daily which is hardly surprising given the sheer depth and quality of material that he bequeathed to us. I was lucky to see him both with Rainbow and Dio and they will be memories that I will treasure forever and just how many singers could outshine a Ritchie Blackmore in full flow but Ronnie could.

There have been many CD tribute albums since his sad passing and all have been worthy efforts as there are so many singers out there who can continue his legacy not least of which being Jørn Lande and Ronnie Romero and there are so many others influenced by Dio’s remarkable voice. This brings us neatly to the latest tribute and it comes from a rather unlikely source being an instrumental album from the guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert. Gilbert, of course, is best known for his work with Mr. Big (the American version rather than the British pop band) as well as the thundering Racer X, numerous album guest appearances and a hugely successful solo career running parallel to it all. It seems that a Dio emblazoned baseball cap caught Gilbert’s attention whilst he was out driving and by the time he was home he had fleshed out a plan to record an album of covers with the guitar standing in for Dio’s voice. Initially, it sounds a little crazy but makes more sense each time you think about is as Dio had already produced the definitive version of the songs so Gilbert came at it from a different angle to record something that was faithful to Dio’s work but without the issues of finding a singer to record Dio-esque versions or something so radically different that they then invalidated the project; it really is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenarios.

The task Gilbert set himself would have daunted a lesser guitarist but if anyone could do it then Gilbert could as his mastery of the instrument is jaw-dropping as his previous work has shown with his amazing chops. Swapping the six-string for Dio though is another matter and I approached this with a certain amount of trepidation once I realised that it was an instrumental work and I simply had no idea how it could be done or even if it should! It is also fair to say that Gilbert tried to get into the heads of the seminal guitarists Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore and Vivian Campbell to give the records a true flavour of Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Dio and he has most definitely succeeded admirably. Look at the tracks below and you know them all intimately and Gilbert has been very clever because he has taken heavy metal standards and then allows us all to look at them from an entirely different and unexpected direction meaning that you can then concentrate on the many intricacies of the music rather than be seduced by Dio’s phenomenal voice and delivery. The material is a very well compiled list of Dio, Sabbath and Rainbow classic and are probably the ones that we would all have picked if asked to select our twelve favourite tracks. It’s also nice to see Country Girl in there from the Mob Rules album which did receive some unfair criticism at the time which I always attributed that to the fact that Heaven And Hell set the bar so high that anything that came after would seem inferior but look at the album as a stand-alone work and this will allow you to re-evaluate it and it will then blow you away (again).

Paul Gilbert plays all the instruments with colleague Bill Ray keeping the perfect beat on drums and they have produced a thrilling work of music that we all know and love but have come at it from a totally unexpected angle with the guitar offering up homage for but never, ever replacing the genius that was Ronnie James Dio. The strange thing is that we all know these tracks so well that I could actually hear Dio (in my head) when playing the album and I think that the metal God himself would have most definitely approved.

The Dio Album is probably not what we would have expected but it is a valid addition to the Dio legacy, again shows Paul Gilbert as the immense talent he is and allows us to re-look at some classic metal tracks in an entirely new light. These songs will never replace Dio’s seminal pieces but it does allow us reappraise them and so should be considered as companion pieces and in that way they work perfectly.

The Dio Album

  1. Neon Knights (4:45)
  2. Kill the King (4:52)
  3. Stand Up And Shout (3:19)
  4. Country Girl (4:00)
  5. Man On The Silver Mountain (4:20)
  6. Holy Diver (5:18)
  7. Heaven And Hell (6:27)
  8. Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll (4:27)
  9. Lady Evil (4:28)
  10. Don’t Talk to Strangers (5:07)
  11. Starstruck (4:11)
  12. The Last In Line (5:58)

The Dio Album will be released by Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Lable Group on 7 April, 2023 and is available for pre-order