This release may be a few months old already, but in the season of giving, it's perhaps prudent to shine the light on a benefit project if for nothing else, to serve as a reminder that music does serve a higher purpose when it wants to.
Last year, Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi joined audile forces for the first time since BLACK SABBATH's frequently vilified "Born Again" album from 1983, joined by a collective of hard rock and metal personalities under the creative moniker WHOCARES. Also referred to as "Ian Gillan, Tony Iommi & Friends", this alliance also features Nicko McBrain, Jason Newsted, Linde Lindstrom and the late Jon Lord.
WHOCARES came forward in 2011 with a charity-based, two-song maxi-single designed to fund the resurrection of a leveled music school in Gyumri, Armenia which is still reeling from earthquake devastation dating back to 1988.
The WHOCARES songs "Out of My Mind" and "Holy Water" are wrangled up a second time this year on a more expansive double disc release from Gillan and Iommi featuring a score of rarities, outtakes and miscellaneous flotsam between the two artists. While SABBATH's "Zero the Hero" has already been released on "Born Again", the point to its inclusion on this quasi-retrospective is a "told you so" (to paraphrase Iommi and Gillan's liner notes) reflection designed to tie in to the WHOCARES tracks.
As you might expect, both "Out of My Mind" and "Holy Water" plod melancholia with Iommi's doom-driven chuff with Ian Gillan drawling effortlessly overtop. While each track is roughly six minutes apiece, it's "Out of My Mind" which will draw the most attention simply for its pedigree cadence. Each player in the WHOCARES ensemble has a signature sound pouring into "Out of My Mind". While the obvious motif would've been to celebrate the prowess of each player with their separable solo decorations, they all stick to the task and still come off as wonderfully singular.
As for the score of bonus material scattered throughout this project, much of it is honed to the diverse talents of Iommi and Gillan. A lot of Gillan's tracks on "WhoCares" are on the lighter side as one might expect, assuming they've heard his latest solo album "One Eye to Morocco". An outtake from that album, "She Thinks It's a Crime" appears here, and given the rustic, Middle-Eastern-splashed cadence of "One Eye to Morocco", it's no surprise this one was omitted, given its pure rock nature. "She Thinks It's a Crime" is electric moodiness versus the up-tempo, earthbound gust of "One Eye to Morocco" itself. On the flipside, Gillan's duet with Grecian world music composer Mihalis Rakintzis, "Get Away" is spritely, airy and it serves as a peek into Gillan's future mindset, even though "Get Away" was recorded in 1993.
The best of Gillan's tracks is the QUEEN-esque throb of "Easy Come, Easy Go" from his side band, REPO DEPO. Then there's Gillan with Roger Glover and Dr. John on a cover of Little Richard's "Can't Believe You Wanna Leave Me", from Gillan and Glover's "Accidentally On Purpose". Their Little Richard hike is a fun blues ride, as is the jive-talking, Fifties rock sliding feel of "Can I Get a Witness". Not so fun, however, is the ultra-sappy "Hole In My Vest", which rings like Robert Palmer's post "Riptide" albums.
The really banging tracks on "WhoCares" belong to Iommi. "Anno Mundi" originally appeared on the Tony Martin-era BLACK SABBATH album, "Tyr", and it serves as tribute to the late Cozy Powell. However, the creme de la cr?me cuts on the entire collection are "Slip Away" and "Let it Down Easy", a pair of balls-out rockers cut from Iommi's "Fused" album with Glenn Hughes on the mike. Any chance to hear Hughes wail is worth the price tag and he peels the paint as ever on these newly-released nuggets.
Most listeners are going to key in on DEEP PURPLE and Ronnie James Dio hammering down an orchestral-aided live trip through "Smoke On the Water" from PURPLE's "Live at The Royal Albert Hall" album from 1999. If you haven't heard this yet, you're in for a treat. The acoustic recording of "When a Blind Man Cries" at Absolute Radio in London is another one of "WhoCares"' gems, as Steve Morris twinkles twelve string at Gillan's hip and it's one of the most spiritual takes of this cherished PURPLE classic. Even more impressive Gillan replaces his falsettos from the center song chorus with an emotional harmonica solo.
Then "WhoCares" is rounded by an amusing bit from DEEP PURPLE who call themselves "DICK PIMPLE" and they fart around nonsensically before hitting a wicked blues jam. Almost as snarky as Gillan calling himself "Garth Rockett" for the PURPLE-touched rock 'n soul blast, "No Laughing in Heaven".
The primary reason to support "WhoCares" is obvious. The selections are mostly cool, sometimes needless, but for Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi, the rectification of past wounds through this philanthropic endeavor is what rings the loudest.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.