Ronnie Romero – Raised on Radio (Album Review)

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At this point, we are fairly old friends with Ronnie Romero at Sonic Perspectives. He is comforting and familiar, like your favorite jeans, or football with dad. Which he should be, really, since he is seemingly everywhere in melodic rock and metal these days. When he is not fronting Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, or providing vocals for Michael Schenker, he is the perennial face of Spanish metal act Lords of Black. When he isn’t busy with all that, Primal Fear’s Magnus Karlsson has him on speed-dial for his Free Fall project. Oh, did we mention stepping into some Turner-sized shoes in a project called Sunstorm? Yeah, that too.

As we move past the unfortunate last two years for the music scene, things are admittedly a little slow for rock and roll, especially international touring. The logistics remain pretty painful, and many venues are still shaking off the dust. It is perhaps with this in mind that Frontiers Records and Ronnie decided now is as good a time as any to take advantage of a little extra free time and check off a box from Ronnie’s personal to-do list: recording an album of classic covers.

As 2022 brings us an album titled “Raised on Radio” for the first time since 1986, it is worth noting that Ronnie and the label have opted to mostly pursue the deeper cuts of the bands being covered, rather than the typical bar-band A-side singles. If this was a Queen Greatest Hits album, this one would be Volume II. For example, the album opens with Grand Funk Railroad’s “Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother,” which opened the band’s 1970 “Closer to Home” album, but is generally overlooked by the band’s greatest hit compilations.

We have no intention of squandering your valuable time with deep scrutiny of songs you have already heard. Here’s the highlights. The album sounds very modern, and up-to-date. We blame our other old friend Alessandro Del Vecchio for this. Of course, he provides his stellar keyboard work, but the most noteworthy contribution might be his mixing and production. On an album of covers reaching back into the 70s and 80s (or even the 60s, in the case of Dylan/Hendrix and “All Along the Watchtower”), the instruments, the amping, the mics, and the mix all launch the songs into a fresh contemporary feel, even before Ronnie steps up to the microphone. From the first track, which normally is quintessential classic rock sound, from the straining speaker cones a la Townshend, to the booming bass guitar, has now been distilled into something tighter and heavier. Even the layered guitar parts of the original, which were very Allman Brothers in nature, now have a feel much more like the last couple minutes of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” although harmonized in a manner much more like mid-80s Maiden, when Dave, H, and Arry would all get up on the stage monitor and do amazing harmonies. Imagine all that happening, but in a cleaner presentation than the golden age of Maiden and Sabbath. And definitely Grand Funk Railroad.

“Raised On Radio” Album Artwork

Ronnie’s voice, of course, remains the cornucopia at the center of this holiday spread. We think the “man in black” (Blackmore, not Cash) would agree with the sentiment that Romero’s voice is a gift that just keeps on giving. He infamously described Ronnie’s voice as the best parts of Dio and Mercury, and that is the beginning of a summary. The rest lies in hearing it for yourself. For the most part, the vocals of the album are, as one would expect, the vocal styles of many of the great singers of rock history, as filtered through the Ronnie Romero prism. The deep cut “Backstreet Love Affair” from Survivor’s modestly-successful “When Seconds Count” album no longer sounds like the beloved Jimi Jamison. It sounds like Ronnie Romero. By the time you make it two or three tracks into this collection, it becomes apparent that if you are a devotee of some of these original tracks, it’s not a given that you will prefer or even enjoy the Romero interpretations. Such things are inescapably subjective, after all. However, it is reasonable to assume that if one is a fan of Romero’s body of work, and therefore almost certainly a rock and metal aficionado, then these tracks will be like sugar on strawberries.

The prevailing theme throughout the album is one of amping up and generally supercharging the classics. The blues-infused Bad Company “Dangerous Age” album becomes anthemic heavy metal when the band covers “No Smoke Without a Fire.” Ronnie handles himself admirably on “I was Born to Love You,” although his voice would probably lend itself even better to other Queen tracks. Extra brownie points to the guitar tracks really capturing the May vibes. Unsurprisingly Ale nails the piano parts of “Play the Game Tonight” by Kansas, and while this may have been the album where the band lost Steve Walsh, this cover may have reclaimed that level of vocal glory with Ronnie’s performance. Of course, while any reference to the lovely Carolinas is always welcome, invoking Ronnie James Dio is even better. So it is that the cover of “Carolina County Ball” by Elf is an interesting incident of a metal band covering a classic rock band trying to capture Southern-fried boogie-woogie feel. And yet somehow it works.

And although Kansas lost Steve Walsh, and Foreigner lost Lou Gramm, once again Ronnie rescues a treasured classic in covering “Girl on the Moon” from Foreigner’s 1981 fourth album. Blessedly, the band keeps the heavy at bay just enough to keep the AOR vibes safely intact on this classic. Going in a completely different direction, the band veers back to 1970 for an early heavy metal prototype, in the form of “Gypsy” by Uriah Heep. With modern amps, mixing, and right-hand riffing style, this version is almost more Iced Earth than Uriah Heep. While the original hails from an album called “Very ‘Eavy,” the boys in Heep had no idea how heavy could be in the right hands. While this new cover version is a bit abbreviated compared to the original, it is a faithful homage in every way. In another interesting turn, this album covers what is likely an artist’s number one hit, in the form of “Voices” from Russ Ballard’s eponymous debut album. Perhaps Ronnie got to be friend with Russ on an occasion where Russ toured alongside Rainbow, but his cover has heart, even if it differs a little from the early 80s new-wave infused presentation of the original. The post-produced gang vocals after the chorus are certainly an embellishment of the original.

The last two tracks are a little less humble than their predecessors. First up is “All Along the Watchtower,” which seems a bit more Hendrix than Dylan in this case, but even this arrangement is a further progression still. From the intricate work on the toms, to the swirling synth keys, this is an interesting take on an old classic, possibly one of the more interesting to date. The finale is a near and dear favorite to old Zeppelin fans, “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You.” We are so thankful that the band and Alessandro elected to keep the track faithful to the iconic vibes of the original. From the guitar tone, to the medium-to-large room reverb, the mixing on the drum kit, the Hammond-esque John Paul Jones keys, the opening section has all the feeling of the original. If the song did anything radical with the tempo, the time signature, or the bluesy feeling, it may have been a bridge too far for we faithful in the devoted Zeppelin camp. If anyone thinks Ronnie is a one-trick pony, they should hold off until they hear him screaming like Plant. Is version better than the original? Well, that’s probably not possible. Ronnie would probably agree. But was this good, and a fitting tribute? Most definitely.

When the brass at Frontiers Records point at an artist and say “do some covers,” like commanding a dog to sit up and do a trick, it could very easily be a cheap and tawdry exercise to push a shoddy product out the door for a few lira. Thankfully, this is nothing like that. Ronnie Romero, one of the leading voices of today’s rock scene, sat down with the brilliant Alessandro del Vecchio, and a few musicians from the Frontiers stables, and worked diligently and respectfully to put his own personal spin on the tracks that made him the musician and the person he is today. If we get to listen while a talented artist crosses something like this off a lifetime bucket list, we are only luckier for the opportunity.

Released By: Frontiers Music SRL
Release Date: April 22nd, 2022
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock

Musicians:

  • Ronnie Romero / Vocals
  • Srdjan Brankovic  / Guitars
  • Javi Garcia  / Bass
  • Andy C / Drums
  • Alessandro Del Vecchio / Keyboards

Additional Musicians:

  • Danny Gómez  / Lead guitar on “I Was Born To Love You”
  • Javier Reyes  / Lead guitar on “All Along The Watchtower”
  • Corina Minda  / Backing vocals on “All Along The Watchtower”

“Raised On Radio” Tracklist:

1.  Sin’s A Good Man’s Brother (Grand Funk Railroad)
2.  Backstreet Love Affair (Survivor)
3.  No Smoke Without a Fire (Bad Company)
4.  I Was Born To Love You (Queen)
5.  Play The Game Tonight (Kansas)
6.  Carolina County Ball (Elf)
7.  Girl On The Moon (Foreigner)
8.  Gypsy (Uriah Heep)
9.  Voices (Russ Ballard)
10. All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan)
11. Since I’ve Been Loving You (Led Zeppelin)

8.3 Great

While this collection of classics by one of the modern icons of rock and metal is almost certainly required listening for Ronnie Romero fans, connoisseurs of classic rock should give this a spin too. These covers are faithful tributes to the greats

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 7
  • Production 9
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