Rainbow – Rising (1976)

Rainbow_Rising5 out of 5 Stars!

A perfect 5-Star masterpiece. To this day, forty-plus years after purchasing this album, I still get chills along my spine and goosebumps on my arms whenever I listen to each of these six tracks, especially the amazing high-fantasy-inspired “Stargazer,” the best and most dynamic song this band ever recorded, and I’m certain I’m not alone in my physical reaction when hearing it.

And to me, each track on Rising is a winner. The opener, “Tarot Woman,” is a feast of Ritchie Blackmore’s awesome guitar, of Ronnie James Dio’s commanding vocals, of Cozy Powell’s slamming drums, of Jimmy Bain’s tasty bass playing, and begins with a rare showcase for keyboardist Tony Carey, while the driving, manic, Deep Purple-like closer, “A Light in the Black,” is another near masterpiece that reigns high on my list of favorite Rainbow tracks, yet often seems forgotten in the shadow of the aforementioned “Stargazer,” which opens the side.

The catchy “Run With the Wolf” features a keyboard lead that sounds eerily similar to a guitar, while perhaps the most immediate song on Rising is the bouncy “Starstruck,” a tune I saw covered by many locals bands in my city through the years—indeed, I had to master it myself for several of my own group’s that insisted on adding it to our set lists. And “Do You Close Your Eyes,” the album’s shortest song that ends Side A, is perhaps the least mentioned track from this album among fans, yet I still find it a pure corker, an overlooked gem.

Aside from all this, I can say nothing detailed or profound about this album’s impact on both the industry or countless other musicians or groups in the genre that hasn’t already been stated thousands of times through the decades, so I’ll simply repeat the two words I hear most often regarding this release, and words in which I completely agree—”Sheer Brilliance!”

So, RIP Ronnie James Dio, one of the finest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock singers in the history of the universe, and RIP Cozy Powell, one of the finest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock drummers in the history of the universe, and RIP Jimmy Bain, one of the finest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock bassists in the history of the universe—the band Rainbow never had a finer line-up of musicians!

(And special kudos to Ken Kelly for creating the stunning artwork, which has to be one of the best album covers of all time.)

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Dio – Strange Highways (1994)

dio_strangehighways4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This album is, in a single word…Killer!

After acclaimed vocalist Ronnie James Dio’s second short stint with Black Sabbath for 1992’s generally ignored (and terrific) Dehumanizer album, he resurrected his own band with a new batch of musicians and released his sixth studio album, which (to me) is just as powerful and riff-heavy as the Sabbath release, thanks in large part to underrated guitarist Tracy Grijalva.

For some unknown reason, however, a lot of Dio fans maligned this particular “comeback” album, but I, for one, loved and embraced it, placing it near the top of my list of “All-Time Best Dio Releases,” and it still remains one of my “most played” Dio albums. With dark, hammering, and bombastic metal tracks such as “Firehead,” “Pain,” “Here’s To You,” “Hollywood Black,” and “Evilution,” how could it not? Also included on this release is the eerie, atmospheric (Sabbath-like) title track, along with the similar metal ballad “Give Her a Gun.” Then there’s “One Foot in the Grave” and “Bring Down the Rain” (which could both have easily been excerpts from Dehumanizer), and the opening track, “Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost,” which comes off as a wildly demented, metal version of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” A tad odd, yes, but heavy as hell.

RIP Ronnie James Dio…your vocal performances on this album will remain extraordinary—simply “metal perfection”—for all time and your talent is missed daily!

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