As the world slowly emerges from the weirdness of the last three years, one can recognize that many, if not most, artists found creative ways to mitigate a reduced touring schedule. This has often been accomplished via the creation of content outside the usual routines and rhythms. While much of this has been the recording of covers no one asked for, a lot of said tributes ended up actually being somewhat cool, and giving the listening community some new things to enjoy. Many artists even revisited the “Christmas Album” well, which had run pretty dry since the era of Andy Williams and Karen Carpenter. One such artist was Paul Gilbert, of Racer X and Mr. Big fame, who treated us to “Twas” in time for Christmas 2021. Much like Rocky Balboa still having a bunch of “junk in the basement” to get out in 2006, Paul Gilbert still has some stuff in his metaphorical Portland basement, and the first thing to see the light is a whole lot of Dio.
“The Dio Album,” as one may guess, is a big CD full of Dio tunes. Thankfully, it spans the entire Dio catalog, from Sabbath to Rainbow to solo career. What might not have been readily apparent, even to the seasoned Gilbert collector, would be whether this was to be an instrumental album, in whole or in part, especially with Gilbert being a more than passable lead vocalist on his own work. We can answer that right here. There are no vocals on the Dio album. Which is just as well, as we could probably count on one hand the number of living singers who could do any amount of justice to Dio vocals, and we believe Paul would be the first to admit he is not among that small number. So, we are left with Paul’s lonesome Ibanez scrambling like hell to be Dio-esque while playing it cool, and making it seem like it’s no big deal.
Before we get down in the weeds, trying to hyper-analyze the vocal approximations of the album, it might be nearly as imperative to also bear in mind that Paul is stepping into the Doc Martens of guitar giants while doing this project. The first of which is Tony Iommi, with his 9.5 very capable fingers. “Neon Knights” is the infamous opener from Sab’s “Heaven and Hell” album, the first time metal audiences got to hear what an Ozz-less Sabbath would sound like. In this case, Paul nails the rhythm guitar riffs. Frankly, aside from enjoying the luxury of a more modern mix, it is hard to differentiate this track from the original, at least until Ronnie J. Ibanez enters the track. While this is likely to be the most subjective element of the record, where user mileage may vary, the vocal interpretation is pretty cool. The nearest analogy might be John 5’s rendition of “Beat It,” where the cool factor is enough to balance out the lack of human vocal cords. The most noteworthy item, which might otherwise avoid attention on the first listen, is that it seems like Paul went out of his way to play the parts on different rigs. It is almost like the rhythm parts were played on one guitar and amp, and so forth for the vocals and again for the lead guitar parts. The quasi-Iommi guitars have a very different sound than the “vocals.” Artistically, this is a sensible move, since Gilbert is already in uncharted waters doing a Dio tribute without any vocals, so at least this separates out the vocals bits from the work of the equally famed guitarists being represented. Frankly, it is nice that the Iommi parts are fairly true to the originals, and same for Blackmore.
Speaking of Blackmore, the album continues with “Kill the King,” which receives an interesting faux-live treatment with some piped-in crowd noise, reminiscent of the late 70s live Rainbow shows which started with some Judy Garland “Over the Rainbow” before the crowd goes wild as Cozy Powell rips into his kit while Ritchie comes charging onto the stage to deliver the riffs. As with the prior track, Paul does an admirable job separating out the sounds and feel of the vocal RJD parts from the instrumental Ritchie parts. The track even closes out with more crowd noise samples to maintain the “recorded live in 1976” vibes Paul is going for.
“Stand Up and Shout,” from Dio’s solo “Holy Diver” album, receives similar treatment to the previous two. The mix is improved through the magic of years and technology, and it’s highly listenable if you don’t need the actual words. Paul even recreates the crowd gang vocals with a neat pick scrape in the right place. Pretty cool. Making a quick turn back into the Sabbath-sphere, we get “Country Girl” from the 1981 “Mob Rules” album. Thankfully, this one gets nicely quiet and moody right where it’s supposed to, although it’s a bit of a shame to lose the lush choral harmonies of the original.
Paul does some cool effects on “Man on the Silver Mountain.” The rhythm guitars get manhandled a bit through some combination of chorus and phaser to give it a funkadelic 70s rock vibe. It also sounds like he might be doing a bit of finger-plucking on the chords of the main riff, in keeping with how Blackmore did songs like this and “Smoke.” Not only are the complex parts done true to the original, but the Blackmore leads are executed flawlessly, albeit with some audible “PG-rated” embellishments. Speaking of cool effects and such, “Holy Diver” somehow manages to accomplish all the synth keyboard minute-long intro with just guitars and effects like delay, reverb, and volume knob swells. Actually, this might sound like a petty detail, but the coolest thing of the entire track might be where Dio does his little humming bit right after the high-gain rhythm guitars come in. Paul does that same humming bit with lead guitar, and it is such a dead-ringer replica that you need rewind it three times to be sure it was guitar and not Ronnie. That is some serious left-hand technique. As for the rest of the track, it’s all here, from Vivian’s great licks and leads, and Dio’s career-defining vocals “Don’t you see what I mean?” Well, we never really were positive what Dio meant on this song, but hey, we can worry about it even less now that there are no words.
When Gilbert returns to Sab’s “Heaven and Hell” album, it’s time for the big one, the title track. The first thing that really stands out here is the faithful reproduction of the tight Geezer bass-line. The second, much more important thing, is how dead-on Paul is with the dynamic Dio vocals. Vibrato, pitch drop-offs, all of it. It also bears mentioning that Paul makes a point of layering the eerie Tony lead harmony bits in the early parts of the track. As a whole, it’s a damned accurate rendition of the original, with the one obvious difference, of course. Such is the case for all the remaining cover tracks, really. Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock and Roll” is absolutely faithful to the original instrumentation and feel. Sabbath’s “Lady Evil,” is spot on, and “Don’t Talk to Strangers” gives Paul an excuse to bust out a steel-string acoustic, before slamming into the main riff with extra gusto. “Starstruck” is eerily similar to Blackmore’s original playing, although, all things equal we would have rather had “Stargazer” from the same album, since it is definitely far more “horns up” than the almost Bonnet-esque “Starstruck” with its more pop rock sensibilities.
Of course, the core of the album could do much worse to close than “The Last in Line.” The low-gain clean intro is interestingly joined by semi-dirty slide blues guitar for the opening vocal parts. Once the main riffs come in, thankfully, the definitive Jimmy Bain bass-line is kept intact to really underscore the gravity of the chorus. The guitar solo is virtuosic as one might expect, although with a bit more legato style than Vivian might have originally favored. But hey, Paul is welcome to make it his where and when appropriate. And he most definitely does.
One last bit of bonus good news: The Japanese CD edition (no word on if this goes for all digital versions or streaming platforms) gets a cover of “The Butterfly Ball” from the Roger Glover concept album of the same name. For those not familiar, this was like the best little Beatles song to never get written by the Beatles, or included on the “Sergeant Pepper” album. It’s like if 1975 Queen wrote “Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite.” The last couple minutes have a great big instrumental jamboree, upon which Mister Gilbert has a shredding good time.
Speaking of good times and shredding, we hope Portland’s resident hipster werewolf Paul Gilbert had fun doing this album. Like a lot of oddities produced while the music world emerged from its lengthy slumber, it definitely has the character of something made mostly for the joy of the artist, and really, that is something to be admired. Market value is well and good, and a great way to put food on the table, but when an artist gets to Paul’s level of veteran status in the rock world, he has certainly earned the occasional self-indulgence.
It is debatable whether there is intrinsic value in interpreting vocals, especially iconic vocals like Dio’s, on the electric guitar. It has a certain novelty, like accidentally getting subjected to a friend’s “MySpace” page in 2005 and suddenly swimming in a Midi music file where the vocals have been replaced by the tootling of a Casio flute. Also, the aforementioned friend’s animated gif wallpaper. Joking aside, if anyone on earth is going to have the talent to pull off something like this, playing Dio vocals on a fingered musical instrument, it would have to be the man from Spaceship One himself, Paul Gilbert. At times, his tone is a little vintage-y, as is his wont as of late, with his blocky retro guitars and mid-gain amps, but for some of the material it’s actually very spot-on. For some of the later Dio material, it might have been more appropriate for Paul to get back to his sounds from “Superheroes” and the appropriately-titled “Getting Heavier,” but this is really splitting hairs.
Check out the video samples already online, and if you like the one track, you will enjoy the whole album. If you can’t get into Dio without the Dio, then this is not for you, but you still owe it to yourself to check out the rest of Paul’s catalog. From Mr. Big to Racer X to Paul’s own solo stuff (“Burning Organ,” “Spaceship One” and many others) there is a seemingly endless catalog to enjoy, for everyone from Shrapnel Shred-Heads to straight-head hair metal and rock fans. Either way, we think Ronnie would give Paul a heartfelt “horns up” for this new release.
Release Date: April 7th, 2023
Record Label: Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group
Genre: Hard Rock
- Paul Gilbert / All instruments but drums
- Bill Ray / Drums
“The Dio Album” Track-listing:
1. Neon Knights
2. Kill The King
3. Stand Up And Shout
4. Country Girl
5. Man On The Silver Mountain
6. Holy Diver
7. Heaven And Hell
8. Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll
9. Lady Evil
10. Don’t Talk To Strangers
12. The Last In Line
Pre-order/save “The Dio Album” HERE.
There are probably only a few singers alive who can sing like Dio sings. There are even less guitarists who can play like… Dio sings? Well, Paul Gilbert is one of them. Check it out