Paul Gilbert, known for being a super-fast shredder and long-time member of Mr Big, will release an album of Ronnie James Dio covers. Why did he do it? Well, that was a question to ask when we interviewed him, but right now, let’s let the music do the talking.
Paul Gilbert – The Dio Album
Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group
Release Date: 7 April 2023
Words: Mark Rotherham
Just like Heaven and Hell, this album kicks off with Neon Knights. And to begin with, it’s very familiar territory. There is the same super-hot riff, but then, what’s this? There are guitars taking the place of the lyrics. Oh wow.
And if, like me, this is your first Paul Gilbert outing, you might be thinking, what? What indeed, but you know what, I kinda like it.
The instrumental line pretty much follows the original, and then you have a guitar replacing the singer. Well, alright then. There probably wouldn’t be too many people who would say you could never replace Ronnie James Dio anyway, and I’d definitely be one. So in that sense, this removes any Far Corporation-type controversy.
It’s close enough to the original to be comforting, and with zero actual singing, it’s different enough to keep your interest. And that’s the thing, Paul Gilbert makes this seem like such a simple thing, but you know, and I know that it’s not easy, it’s just so not. And when you’re covering any Black Sabbath song, before you’re doing anything else, you’re covering Tony Iommi. And if you’re Paul Gilbert, then you’ve got to cover Ronnie James Dio. With a guitar. And he absolutely nails the solo, the riffing, and the singing.
Can you listen to purely instrumental music and still be interested? If it’s Paul Gilbert covering Dio, then the answer is an absolute oh yes! This song, in particular, has some fabulous playing in the final part.
Next up is Kill The King, which starts off with a live audience chanting, ‘Dio! Dio! Dio!’ And then we’re into that huge drum and guitar intro riff. So here’s the formula: high-sounding, treble-rich guitar taking the place of Ronnie’s singing. It’s all really good stuff. I’d say this song is perhaps a little more understated than the original, but hey, it’s always going to be an uphill struggle to upstage Blackmore and Dio, and Paul Gilbert does an inspired job of absolutely nailing the solo. And if you thought Ritchie shredded this solo at warp speed, wait til you hear what Mr Gilbert does with it. Disappointment is the last thing you’ll feel.
Stand Up And Shout is always a song that kicks down the door on its way in, and so it is here. This is an iconic Dio song that announced his departure from Black Sabbath, and how! Paul Gilbert’s ‘vocals’ are absolutely up to the task, and for the absolute Dio fans like me, you’ll be humming or even singing the lyrics along with Mr G’s playing. The solo is faster than you would think possible while still hitting every note absolutely perfectly.
But this isn’t just Paul Gilbert playing amazing guitar, the whole band is tighter than the gaps between the pyramids, giving us a glorious slice of Metal-fest music.
But if you think that Paul Gilbert just picked the more obvious songs on this album, think again, as the first curve ball comes in the shape of Country Girl. I love this song, but it never gets much airplay and I don’t know why. Mr Gilbert really turns up the distortion and absolutely nails it for the riff, then plays a flawless line for his lyrical play. And sure, maybe you could argue that the only way to cover Ronnie’s voice is not to use a singer because, hey, no one’s ever going to fill those shoes, right? As on all the other tracks though, it’s a flawless band performance from the bass and drums as well. This is a team effort all the way, and it’s the first team.
For the regulars at Dio concerts, we all know that Man On The Silver Mountain is an archetypal song that the man played live right through Rainbow and onwards from Dio. You know it, you love it, and if it’s anything to do with Ronnie James Dio, you’re gonna expect it. This version, though, has understated riffing, and the focus is on the guitar as the singer.
And that’s not a bad thing. By now, none of us expects Paul Gilbert to do anything other than give us his take on the solo, and he does not disappoint. It’s fast, and it’s slick, and it’s real good. The solos and the singing is where Paul Gilbert really flies.
Just like the original, this version of Holy Diver has a nice atmospheric beginning, but with guitars replacing a lot of the synth intro. Tight, staccato riffing, and then Paul’s guitar voice kicks in, leaving us Dio fans to fill in the lyrics in our minds. This is fabulous stuff, and on one of Dio’s most famous songs, the title track of a classic album forever associated with him, Paul Gilbert makes it his own on the solo and on the vocals. How many people can do that with a Dio song? Paul Gilbert can.
Then it’s time to rewind a few albums, with Heaven And Hell, which kicks in with note-for-note identical riffing as this huge slice of Metal comes thundering out of the speakers. It’s maybe a higher pitch, but the distortion carries the same threat as the original, and for those who know, we’re following the lyrics word for word as Paul’s guitar sings its own song.
This is such an unusual combination of the familiar being played in the same way and yet a different way. Paul isn’t trying to re-write the songs themselves, but by putting his own guitar in place of the singer, he actually really is making these songs his own.
I’ve always thought that Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll is a deceptively powerful song. It’s certainly stood the test of time, along with Man On The Silver Mountain, making it onto every Dio live set (as far as I know). And what an anthem, what a title, what a message. Ritchie Blackmore really let rip on this solo, and so too does Paul Gilbert. He plays Campbell, Iommi and Blackmore note for note perfectly while at the same time making his guitar sound like Ronnie James Dio. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty damn sure it beats the hell out of any unplugged acoustic re-hash any day.
Another rarely-played gem gets a dusting next. Lady Evil is a greatly overlooked track from the Heaven and Hell album, but Paul Gilbert absolutely nails the whirling, slightly strange riff before handling the singing in his very own way. I’m not sure if it would have the same impact on someone not as familiar with Ronnie Dio’s songs, but if you’re a fan, this are his greatest songs given a whole new makeover, and the reworked solo on this song is just to die for.
You can argue til doomsday what the best ever Dio song is, but I think we’d all agree that Don’t Talk To Strangers is definitely up there. When Ronnie James Dio joined Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi initiated him into the art of slow and fast in the same song, and with this absolute classic track, we hear just how good that can be. This is just one of those songs that you simply can’t ever get tired of, and this version absolutely flies. It’s just a sheer joy to listen to. Paul Gilbert makes a few slight tweaks along the way, and the end result will just blow you apart.
Another curveball sails in from the east, or is that the west? Whatever, it’s Starstruck, another rarely aired gem, this time from Rainbow’s seminal second album, Rising. From Vivian Campbell’s sledgehammer shotgun on the previous song, we hear Paul Gilbert’s take on Metal delivered with Ritchie Blackmore’s surgical precision. Two different styles and approaches, but both achieve the very same thing: total entertainment. It’s a very rare thing to see these songs delivered in this way, and I guarantee you won’t get the smile off your face for weeks.
The final song is The Last In Line, and what a masterpiece to end this album on. Not only my favourite Dio song but also the title track of my favourite Dio album. This song is another slow start that turns into toxic, malevolent, molten Metal and will have you rocking out in your living room and feeling once again that you’re young and, in my case, still have hair!
This version of the song has exactly the same effect on you, and it’ll take you right to the top of Mount Rock! Just listen to this album and thank all the gods that you’ve got ears. Exult in the glory, the sheer beauty of Heavy Metal, and absolutely celebrate the re-telling of this story at the hands of Paul Gilbert’s genius.
Paul Gilbert, The Dio Album, can be pre-ordered from https://lnk.to/PaulGilbert.