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LOOK OUT I: Humble Beginnings, Some Brilliance - 82%

TheExodusAttack, May 16th, 2011

As the one year anniversary of Ronnie James Dio’s death approaches, I have dug up and re-touched these reviews of his golden age, which I wrote shortly following his passing. This is my manner of tribute to the man, my small way of giving back to a musician who gave us all so much.

When you get down to it, Rainbow offered some of the greatest albums of the 1970s, thanks to the talents of former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and future rock n’ roll giant Ronnie James Dio. Merging Blackmore’s experience in blues and his classical training with Deep Purple’s prototypical bombastic heavy metal thunder, Dio’s majestic vocals completed the band’s recognizable sound. Although the band would reach great heights from 1975 to 78, their debut is not quite a mind-blowing, life-changing release, however great some individual songs are. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow is like warm cookie dough: however tasty and delectable it may be at first, it becomes apparent mid-digestion that it is mushy, undercooked and not as satisfying as it would have been had you fully baked it. Like cookie dough, this album is a great snack I love from time to time, but when I crave Rainbow I’m not likely to choose this debut over the warm, delightful cookies that are Rising, Long Live Rock n’ Roll and their plethora of live releases from the 70s.

I’ll start off with the bad: those annoying bits of undercooked dough that annoy me so. “Black Sheep of the Family” is the reason Rainbow was formed, as Deep Purple refused to record this Quartermass cover, leading Blackmore to recruit Dio for this project. It’s a silly little rock n roll number with fun verses but nothing else substantial. There isn’t much inherently wrong with it, particularly in terms of “normal” Deep Purple songs, but I never look forward to this track. I’m also not a huge fan of “Snake Charmer” which has an weird riff under the verses that isn’t really a riff at all, just some bouncy musical noises that doesn’t support what the song is capable of, like the slinking, twisting guitar solo. Yes, this is Ritchie Blackmore we’re talking about, with talent as noticeable as his ego. Every tune here, even the mediocre ones, is guaranteed to have a fantastic lead or solo. But even that can’t save “If You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll,” a genuinely annoying number with silly boogie-piano lines courtesy of the somewhat irrelevant keyboardist Mickey Lee Soule. Dio, I most certainly DO like rock n’ roll, but I do not like this filler of a song. Go join Black Sabbath or something.

But may I remind you, this is cookie dough we are talking about, and it is delicious no matter how much of a cookie it may not be. There is some fantastic hard-rocking material to be found here, not too far removed from intense Purple tracks like “Lazy” and “Fireball.” “Self Portrait” is a solid song caught between mediocrity and greatness, but Rainbow REALLY hits the nail on the head with “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves.” The former opens the album with an amazing but simple riff and stomps along with an unbeatable, organ-heavy groove. Possibly the single catchiest Rainbow song, this track even beats out the perfect “Stargazer” as my most listened song by the band. The chorus is excellent, and here Dio really comes into his own: he has a smaller range and lower register than Ian Gillan and Rob Halford, but is just as (if not more) expressive and powerful as those two. His commanding and intense vocals are hard at work on this album, marking 1975 as the year that Ronnie James Dio really started turning heads and began his legend as one of the greatest vocalists in heavy metal. He is just as good on “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves,” which is a bombastic, proto-power metal romp with another brilliant chorus and, as expected, an immensely enjoyable guitar solo courtesy of Blackmore. Live performances of this track are even greater, opening with Blackmore’s calming take on the original “Greensleeves” as well as an extra heavy crunch due to the live atmosphere. The price of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow is worth these two songs alone.

However, no Rainbow album would be complete without Blackmore reveling in the past. The mournful and bluesy “Catch the Rainbow” is the perfect counterpoint to the classically-influenced “Temple of the King.” “Catch the Rainbow” is a definite fan-favorite, using its slow and calm tempo to build suspense with Dio’s lovely croons and Blackmore’s inspirational chords and leads. “Temple of the King” is just as great; a somewhat forgotten song featuring classical acoustic guitar and one of the most satisfying song structures on the album. Showing off Rainbow’s emotional side, these two great songs round up the general sound of the band at this early point in their career. Good, no?

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow is a great album; this much cannot be denied. It’s simply the fact that Blackmore would eke out two more masterpieces with Rainbow and Dio would go on to have a magnificent career performing heavy metal that overshadows this release, even though it is superior to Deep Purple’s post-Machine Head fare. This album isn’t perfect as a whole, but it is still very enjoyable. Rockers like “Man on the Silver Mountain,” “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” and the instrumental Yardbirds track “Still I’m Sad” bang out like the best of metal offered in the 70s. The band displays a multi-faceted variety throughout their debut, and the potential is obviously there; it would take only another year for Blackmore and Dio to capitalize on it.

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010)