It’s a sad reality of the times we live in that efforts to honor our fallen musical heroes are often viewed with skepticism, if not outright cynicism. Sometimes (*cough*hologram tours*cough), that cynicism may be justified. Other times, it is not, and a gesture of remembrance and love should be taken at face value, unsullied by ulterior motives or financial angles. A perfect example of the latter category is the new Feinstein album, entitled Hail and Farewell – A Tribute to Ronnie James Dio. Never heard of it? That’s because Feinstein elected to release the album with a minimum of fuss and fanfare, suggesting it is not really intended as a commercial enterprise at all. Who is this Feinstein? That would be David “Rock” Feinstein, legendary guitarist/vocalist of The Rods, one of the finest American hard rock/heavy metal power trios ever to grace a stage. To Rock Feinstein, this album is intensely personal. You see, he and Ronnie James Dio were cousins. They played together in Elf in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By all accounts, they had a close relationship until Dio tragically passed away in 2010. Feinstein wrote and recorded this album to pay tribute to his fallen cousin.
If you were expecting Hail and Farewell to be essentially a new The Rods album in different guise, guess again. Even though Rock’s characteristic vocals and signature riffing style shine through in immediately recognizable fashion, and even though he’s enlisted the aid of his bandmates Carl Canedy (who plays drums on most of the album) and Garry Bordonaro (who chips in lead vocals on one track), this project bears little resemblance to Feinstein’s day job. That’s because Hail and Farewell pays tribute, both musically and lyrically, to Ronnie James Dio. What that means is that the music largely eschews the gritty, bluesy rock/metal that has long been The Rods’ calling card, in favor of heavily Rainbow/Sabbath/Dio influenced material, complete with a healthy dose of Hammond organ/keyboards. It’s remarkable on tracks like “Chasing Rainbows,” “Song of Woe” or “Witches Brew” to hear how effectively Feinstein has channeled the sound, the mood, the energy, and the vibe of his cousin’s musical achievements. (There’s even a brief trumpet passage in an intro track “March of the Elves,” paying homage to Ronnie’s first musical instrument.) To be clear, Feinstein isn’t playing covers of Rainbow or Sabbath tunes, but he has penned a batch of songs cut from that same cloth and obviously heavily inspired by his cousin’s work. There are no printed lyrics included in the six-panel, fold-out digipack packaging for the CD. (There is, however, a wonderful collage of vintage photographs mostly of the Elf days, apparently taken from Rock’s personal archives.) From what I can tell, however, the songs include biographical passages describing RJD’s life and career, one track (“Hold on for Your Life“) that pieces together multiple different RJD songtitles, and others that echo the same fantastical lyrical motifs that RJD utilized so brilliantly.
As you may have surmised already, Hail and Farewell is extremely well done. It is a moving, heartfelt tribute that comes across as an entirely genuine labor of love to remember and honor a cherished cousin who was taken too soon. The most stirring example of this would be the closing 8-minute “You Are My Hero,” which is a beautiful piano/orchestrated ballad sung by another family member, Eleanor Feinstein Phalen. The song packs an emotional wallop and may well have you dabbing at your eyes with a tissue before it concludes. But more than the emotional quality of the album, Hail and Farewell also feels infused with the spirit of Ronnie James Dio himself, capturing some of the magic and mystery that made him so beloved by so many. No, Hail and Farewell isn’t the usual chest-beating old-school metal fare you read about here at True Metal Lives. It might be a stretch to classify it as a metal record at all. It’s more of a dramatic, emotional rock’n’roll record, I’d say. But it is an immensely well-executed tribute to perhaps the greatest metal vocalist that ever lived. And that outweighs any genre boundaries or classifications, warming me to the depths of my heavy metal heart.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~