Longing for days gone by is especially heartfelt in hard rock and heavy metal music, the genre's diehards pining for substance in a music climate growing characterless. More so, they cling to familiarity like syrup to peaches. The mere suggestion of paying to watch a Freddie Mercury hologram, much less Ronnie James Dio in a live revival setting, is proof positive and, imo, frankly tacky.
Further evidence is in the form of a startling Ronnie James Dio vocal doppelganger, LORDS OF BLACK singer Ronnie Romero, hired by guitar maestro Ritchie Blackmore to lead an idealized recreation of RAINBOW. The appointment was instantaneous after Romero, who prefers the Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet periods of RAINBOW, nailed "Man On the Silver Mountain" in his audition. Whether you appreciate him or not, Romero weaves reverential magic on "Stargazer".
The newly dubbed RITCHIE BLACKMORE'S RAINBOW is fortified by transplants from Blackmore's polyphonic medieval company, BLACKMORE'S NIGHT. Transitioning to Ritchie's rock theatre is his wife, Candice Night, along with second backing vocalist, Lady Lynn, and drummer David Keith. Added to this ensemble is iconic keyboardist Jens Johansson and bassist Bob Nouveau, who previously played with Blackmore for six years.
The soon-to-be-73 Blackmore looks ever much the electric wizard with his astonishing agility, and Jens Johansson's classy presentation is more than a match. Thus, Ritchie's new illusion band does a firm job recreating RAINBOW and Mark II and III era DEEP PURPLE songs on the "Memories in Rock II" live album. Quickly on the heels of 2016's "Memories in Rock: Live in Germany", this is essentially the same set, but it's more confident in execution. The double-album sequel also contains a video portion with interviews, a backdrop re-recording of "I Surrender", and a new RAINBOW song, "Waiting for a Sign".
After Candice discovered Ronnie Romero via YouTube, Ritchie Blackmore became inspired to return to RAINBOW's music following more than a 20-year break and sparked by an opportunity to "have a blast on the Strat." Blackmore affirms he is still dedicated to BLACKMORE'S NIGHT, appearing interested only in now and then RAINBOW celebration gigs. Nostalgia rules here, period. Just listen to the parallel-aged audience wailing along in remembrance on "Long Live Rock ‘n' Roll".
"Memories in Rock II" is RAINBOW by name, though it leans heavily on DEEP PURPLE selections: "Smoke On the Water", "Child In Time", "Lazy", "Woman From Tokyo", "Mistreated"", "Soldier of Fortune" and "Black Night". 1984's "Perfect Strangers", cited as Ritchie's favorite DEEP PURPLE song, also gets dialed up.
Ritchie is still clad in his BLACKMORE'S NIGHT troubadour's garb here instead of traditional rocker's wear but make no mistake: his playing is still tremendous. Bob Nouveau refers to Ritchie as "The Methuselah of rock 'n' roll," and his apparent immortality is all but preordained. The set opens not with selections from the Dio era of RAINBOW, but Joe Lynn Turner's. It launches into a rousing rendition of "Spotlight Kid" and "I Surrender" from "Difficult to Cure", with the title track appearing later in the set. Ritchie and Jens are superb during their exchanged solos on "Spotlight Kid".
From the Dio period comes "Stargazer", "Man On the Silver Mountain", "Sixteenth Century Greensleeves", "Catch the Rainbow", "The Temple of the King" and "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll", with Graham Bonnet's tenure on "Down to Earth" represented by "Since You've Been Gone" and "All Night Long". Ronnie Romero borrows only enough from Bonnet to whirl the crowd into an expectant singalong on "Since You've Been Gone".
The performances on "Memories in Rock II" are nimble and tight instead of bombastic and prog-heavy. Candice Night and her younger counterpart, Lady Lynn, supply a faint yet elegant texture to the Dio-era RAINBOW songs in particular. The set's gorgeous instrumental, "Carry On Jon", gives Ritchie a chance to mingle some BLACKMORE'S NIGHT into his rock retrospection to sensuous delight.
The freewheeling new song "Waiting for a Sign" carries a blues hump, showing Ritchie Blackmore is still plenty capable of a shake or two. The riff is as snappy as the vocal sections and Ritchie's soloing is both discerning and vivid. There's a sensible jarring of the groove to "Waiting for a Sign", indicating a leeway for more RAINBOW should Blackmore want it.
Many will snipe at the inclusion of so much DEEP PURPLE material in a set billed as RAINBOW, yet if Ritchie Blackmore is guilty of anything, it's trying to coddle all of his fans in one fell swoop. This, and unabashedly inviting his surviving bandmates from the archetypal Mark II period for a final one-off, "…just to prove that we're not all hating each other."
In the video interview section of the package, Ritchie whimsically discusses his love-hate relationship with Ian Gillan, recounting their notorious spaghetti fights, and he cites Bob Dylan as the only musician in the business he truly admires. Perhaps the most impactful message Ritchie Blackmore conveys speaks of his younger, temper-flared years: "Rock 'n' Roll is about anger and suppression...it's about pushing a certain urgency about life... I was kind of pleased in a sadistic way...I knew what I was playing onstage had a force behind it, but it wasn't a happy force...it was an angry punch force."
Need we say it, then? Long live...