Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi – WhoCares (2012)

This new two-disc set of rarities and unreleased tracks, built around a double-sided benefit single from Ian Gillan and Tony Iommi, traces a series of intriguing side trips traveled by Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.

There’s nothing on the order of “Iron Man” or “Hush,” but the two new cuts featured on WhoCares (due today from Armory Records-Ear Music) thrum with an old-school, balls-out energy — and, deeper in, there’s a terrific live redo of “Smoke on the Water,” which combines the bands’ two histories as the late Ronnie James Dio takes over to add a dark, bellowing vocal. Recorded in 1999 with Deep Purple and the London Symphony Orchestra, it was originally part of Live at the Royal Festival Hall.

Black Sabbath fans will also find tracks from 1990′s Tyr, featuring Tony Martin, Cozy Powell and others (“Anno Mundi”); and from Born Again, the 1983 Gillan collaboration (“Zero the Hero”).

Meanwhile, those who follow Deep Purple get a rare Gillan b-side in “Hole in My Vest,” from his 1990 single “Nothing but the Best,” the touching deep cut “Don’t Hold Me Back” from 1991′s Toolbox, and the ribaldly named “Dick Pimple” — a thunderous, set-closing jam from the sessions for 1996′s Purpendicular. Originally recorded for a free fan-club CD single, it features a pair of scalding solos from Steve Morse and the late Jon Lord. Morse also sits in on a new acoustic version of “When a Blind Man Cries,” from 1972′s Machine Head.

Deep Purple and Sabbath collide again when longtime Purple bassist/one-time Black Sabbath frontman Glenn Hughes sits in on “Slip Away” and “Let It Down Easy,” a pair of unused tracks from Iommi’s 2005 solo effort Fused.

Then there’s “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave Me,” an early-rock rave up that features this squalling, sock-hop sax, and a soul-soaked vocal from Gillan — who barks and wails, goes into a rumbling fit of jealous, ramps up into a lonesome, almost out-of-control fury, then cries to the very sky above for his long lost true love. Guest pianist Dr. John (yes, Dr. John!) offers a salacious solo that’s matched step for lip-smacking step by Purple vet Roger Glover’s insistent bass thump, before everything is subsumed by Nick Blagona’s stomping turn on the horn.

For all of the expected joys to be found among the deep cuts, for all of the breezy distractions uncovered among the alternate mixes, “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave Me” may just be this set’s most satisfying surprise for the uninitiated. Recorded at New York City’s Power Station for the Gillan and Glover album Accidentally on Purpose, “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave Me” actually occupied a similar role back in 1988, too. On a project nearly sunk at times by drum machines and synths, this timeless Little Richard vehicle was so brilliantly jarring that it sounded like someone had changed the radio station in the middle of Side 2.

Of course, then as now, “Can’t Believe” didn’t always reflect back anyone’s muscled hard-rock expectations, but it more than made up for that with its unabashed sense of brotherhood, and of joy. The same goes for WhoCares, a varied and interesting off-road excursion for fans of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath alike.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.