PAUL GILBERT – The DIO Album (2023)

PAUL GILBERT - The DIO Album (2023) - full

It was pure chance that led PAUL GILBERT to recording his upcoming release ‘The Dio Album‘. The American guitar virtuoso, best known for his masterful fretwork in chart-topping hard rockers Mr. Big and high-octane trailblazers Racer X – as well as numerous solo records – was in his car when he saw something that made his heart start beating faster in a moment of unexpected, unadulterated joy. This was not a high value item of interest or even particularly rare, simply a baseball cap with the word ‘Dio’ emblazoned across the front. Sometimes, even for the biggest of guitar legends, it’s the little things that hit us in the most profound ways.
On his drive home, a plan was being formulated. Why not capture all of that raw energy and excitement on an album devoted to Ronnie James Dio’s most celebrated tracks – spanning across his career from Rainbow to Black Sabbath and the singer’s own solo endeavours?
‘The Dio Album’ consists of 10 standout and career-defining tracks, from “Heaven and Hell” to “Holy Diver” and “Man On The Silver Mountain”.

It would be fair to say human voices don’t come much more magical than Ronnie James Dio’s. He was a man who brought a sense of classical finesse to loud and heavy music, ultimately laying down the blueprint for generations and generations of rock singers to come.
Taking on the daunting challenge of mimicking those distinguished vocal lines down to a tee — each legendary performance decorated with its own idiosyncrasies and nuances — actually involved unlearning some of the technical precision that turned Gilbert into a household name for guitar players in the first place.

“Playing all these metal riffs like ‘Stand Up And Shout’, ‘Neon Knights’ and ‘Kill The King’ gave me serious chills,” grins Paul. “The guitar parts of Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi and Vivian Campbell brought no small number of goosebumps.” “These amazing riffs are the steel girders of the songs, upon which everything else rests,” smiles Paul. “It had been a while since I’d been this deep into metal rhythm guitar playing, and it felt like I was digging up gold nuggets of fire with a magic platinum shovel. All while wearing a star-covered wizard hat! The guitar solos in these songs came screaming from distant mountaintops. Ritchie, Tony, and Vivian set the standard breathtakingly high.”

Engineered by Zach Bloomstein with Paul handling all of the instrumentation, save for Bill Ray’s inspired drum work, “The Dio Album” is undoubtedly the most sonically accurate tribute to the songs that made Ronnie James Dio a bona fide rock and roll legend.
In order to truly hone in on the late singer’s essence, Paul Gilbert dissected many of the melodies line by line, throwing every inch of himself into the music. It was the only way to capture every ounce of the energy and emotion.

“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-voice-done-with-Ibanez-guitar 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 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.

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.

The album close with “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.

It is debatable whether there is intrinsic value in interpreting vocals, especially iconic vocals like Dio’s, on the electric guitar. 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.
We think Ronnie would give Paul a heartfelt “horns up” for this new release.
Highly Recommended


01 – Neon Knights
02 – Kill the King
03 – Stand Up and Shout
04 – Country Girl
05 – Man On The Silver Mountain
06 – Holy Diver
07 – Heaven and Hell
08 – Long Live Rock and Roll
09 – Lady Evil
10 – Don’t Talk to Strangers
11 – Starstruck
12 – The Last in Line

Paul Gilbert – everything
Bill Ray – drums, percussion


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1 Response

  1. jay says:

    Thnx! 0Day

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