The biggest knock on tribute albums is that they often come off as glorified bar band covers, rendered by musicians who are probably a bit better than the six-slinging tough guys down at the local watering hole, sure, but technique aside are just as much of a sleep walk. The flip side of that is that they are often an opportunity for like-minded musicians to get together for impromptu sparring sessions that were otherwise unlikely to materialize without existing sheet music to play off of. And then there are those that clumsily split the difference.
Immortal Randy Rhoads is not the first tribute album to the guitar great, but compared to many other legendary bands and artists the Rhoads omnibus encomiums have been kept to a surprising minimum. This is not entirely overdone territory, believe it or not. And on those rare occasions where tribute albums legitimize themselves, they typically follow the format found here: rather than enlist a fully formed band to rattle off their favorite track, musicians from various groups are paired up with like minded musicians that they may or may not have ever worked with before.
Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) jamming on "Crazy Train" is sort of a no brainer – his post-punk guitar squalls offer a legit compliment to Rhoads' own whammy worship – but having Serj Tankian (System of a Down) wail over top probably sounded better on paper than it comes off on record. He never quite lets loose as much as you want him to, but at the same time his voice is not really suited to the surprisingly faithful reading he gives here. In fact, this may be the single most restrained performance of Tankian's career.
The majority of vocals on the album are performed by Tim "Ripper" Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth), and while he acquits himself capably enough he tends to phone it in a bit as well. In fact, the vocals throughout are flatly rendered by a small coterie of singers who should frankly be capable of more: it's almost as if the tribute was recorded under a mandate from Sharon Osborne not to upstage Ozzy too much.
That's not to say the whole thing is a wash. George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) proves once again via "I Don't Know" that the man is just incapable of reeling off a flaky solo, and it's interesting to hear appearances by both of Rhoads' immediate successors: Bernie Tormé, who only played out a handful of dates on the tour that was in progress when Rhoads died; and Brad Gillis, who finished out the dates when Tormé bailed a week-and-a-half into his tenure. Gillis' primary contribution to Ozzy's band was playing on the Speak of the Devil live album, but after the tour concluded he went back to his main band, Night Ranger, who had been signed to a major label deal in the interim while Gillis was out on the road with Ozzy.
Modern metal fans may be excited to see Gus G's name come up in the dramatis personæ, but his appearance comes on "Goodbye to Romance", a syrupy ballad that only allows for a brief (if torrid) solo interlude. Also of interest is a cover of two Rhoads-era Quiet Riot songs: "Killer Girls" and "Back to the Coast", the latter sung by Randy's own brother Kelle!
It may seem like a slight to call Immortal Randy Rhoads "for completists only", but frankly isn't that all these tribute albums really aspire to be in the first place? It would be foolhardy in the extreme for any producer to position a collection of legendary covers as the heir apparent, canonical versions of the songs, and there's no indication of such pretense here. This is just 11 cuts of (mostly) old school hard rockers getting together and putting their own spin on some classic Rhoads-penned tunes. Morello and Tankian aside, there's not a huge depth chart of "sexy" big names here, so it's clear this was a labor of love. That said, the sincerity doesn't necessarily make the end product any less disposable, but as far as tribute albums go this one is a little more thoughtful and well-organized than most. It also comes with a bonus DVD of artist/producer interviews to shed a bit more "hands on" analysis of Rhoads' colossal influence.