Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/09/2010
It can never be said of Ritchie Blackmore that he hasn’t followed his own convictions. When he felt Deep Purple – a band he helped establish – was going in a musical direction he didn’t believe in, he packed his Stratocaster and walked away. For his follow-up group, he needed to look no farther than the band who had recently been Deep Purple’s opening act: Elf, featuring vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Taking all but their lead guitarist, he created the first iteration of Rainbow, a band whose numerous subsequent personnel moves almost seem Spinal Tap-ish.
Their debut album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, did somewhat keep the vibe of Machine Head-era Deep Purple alive, but it also featured dips into more Medieval-like playing – a harbinger of things that were to come in Blackmore’s career, though there’s no way one could have known that 25 years prior. For a first effort, it’s downright impressive, even if there are a few uneven points.
The lead-off track, “Man On The Silver Mountain,” is arguably one of, if not the, best-known song from Rainbow, and features an opening guitar lick from Blackmore that dares to lean more than a little style-wise on “Smoke On The Water.” It is with this song that Dio is given his first true chance to not only feature his own style of sorcery and dragons-type of lyrics (which, by the way, is not a knock on the man, and I realize there are no references to dragons in this song), but to truly relish being a frontman of a successful group. And even though he was already a veteran of the music scene, Dio rises to the challenge admirably, playing his words off a funky Roger Glover-inspired bass line courtesy of Craig Gruber.
The follow-up track, “Self-Portrait,” doesn’t quite seem like it’s the best fit for Dio’s style of singing, but it does have a definite Deep Purple vibe to it as Blackmore puts his own signature on the track with his guitar work. Interestingly, it is the third track on the album, “Black Sheep Of The Family,” a cover of a Quartermass song that Blackmore originally wanted to record with Deep Purple, that not only gives Dio his best chance to display his talents as a singer, but could well be the hidden gem on this disc.
I wish I could say that “Catch The Rainbow,” the six-and-a-half minute epic that closes the first part of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, was the highlight of the disc. After all, this is the song that not only finally gives Blackmore room to express himself musically in ways that he never would have been able to in Deep Purple, but also gives the backing band their chance to shine. However, something just doesn’t click with me, and I tend to think it’s because the track isn’t mixed as well as it could have been. Where this song had the chance to be a soaring example that proved Blackmore was more than a one-facet player (and, make no mistake, he does show his talents well on this one), the under-produced sound just doesn’t allow this one to get the emotional lift it truly deserved.
Of the remaining tracks on Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, only one – an instrumental cover of The Yardbirds’ “Still I’m Sad” – really showcases both Blackmore and his backing musicians the way this disc should have – and I found myself wishing this track had stretched out longer than its just-under four minute running time. Other tracks, such as “Snake Charmer” and “If You Don’t Like Rock ‘N’ Roll,” aren’t terrible by any stretch, but they just don’t have the feel of being top-shelf material. Likewise, “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves,” a track that I know is a favorite of many Rainbow fans, just doesn’t connect with me.
It is interesting to note the Medieval-style of Blackmore’s playing on “The Temple Of The King.” No one, of course, could have expected Blackmore to eschew the world of rock music to dedicate himself to a style like this some 25 years later, but it is interesting to hear what could well be the germination of the seed of what would become Blackmore’s Night, and, truth be told, it’s not unpleasant at all.
Blackmore would dismiss his entire backing band except for Dio following the release of this album, but for a first effort, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow proves to be a good starting point, where even the lesser tracks have something that one can enjoy in them.