RONNIE ROMERO – Raised On Radio

Ronnie Romero is one of those vocalists who never seems to stop working. Between the beginning of 2016 and the end of 2021, he released three albums with his own prog metal band Lords of Black, two as frontman with power metal collaborative The Ferrymen (featuring the multi-talented Magnus Karlsson), an album apiece with Sunstorm and Vandenberg, embarked on major tours with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and even guested with Michael Schenker.

His 2022 solo release doesn’t involve any newly written material, but acts as a solid showcase for his broad talent, with the Chilean vocalist putting his own stamp on various classic tracks. As you might expect with a Romero covers album, the lion’s share of the chosen material is drawn from the rock and metal spectrum and Ronnie pays tribute to some very obvious influences. Despite not being madly inventive, ‘Raised On Radio’ still manages to be an almost wholly enjoyable affair, often acting as a reminder of why his vocal pipes have been in such great demand.

What makes ‘Raised On Radio’ a little more interesting is the fact that some very obvious bands are revisited via some less than obvious album cuts, making this a covers album where the artist doesn’t just go through the motions by churning out some karaoke rock hits. Romero could’ve easily trudged his way through Foreigner’s ‘Feels Like The First Time’ or ‘Jukebox Hero’ and kept the record company happy, but instead he has picked a deep cut from Foreigner’s ‘4’ in ‘Girl On The Moon’ and turned in a top job where his usual louder tones give way to the more soulful. Naturally, he doesn’t sound like Lou Gramm, but there’s a huge melodic streak within his accented delivery, and his scratchy edges occasionally sound a little more like the younger Bob Catley, in terms of presence if not always in tone. His voice works surprisingly well with the huge AOR mood, and his hired band – despite sticking rigidly to the Foreigner arrangement – sound great throughout, with a blues-edged lead filling gaps in the chorus providing an obvious highlight.

Survivor’s ‘Backstreet Affair’ is another good fit for Romero, and he makes it his own by applying a huge, soaring vocal to in a heavier arrangement. During these four minutes, the singer more than shows his mettle for solid melodic rock, but there are plenty of times when his band are equally impressive. Guitarist Srdjan Brankovic offers some superb multi-tracked lead guitar sounds and a terrific solo, and Alessandro Del Vecchio bolsters the core melody with some solid keys. Which are augmented by a few great twin leads. This is obviously a little heavier than Survivor’s original cut, but never in a way that kills any flair or melody – if anything, the melodic metal chug that drives everything forward gives it a new sense of vigour, assuming you’re not going to feel over precious about a much-loved AOR tune. Bassist Javi Garcia is, naturally, no match for Stephan Ellis’s weighty eighties sound here, but he actually comes into his own on a solid rendition of Bad Company’s ‘No Smoke Without A Fire’. It’s great to see some genuine love for the brilliant Brian Howe AOR period of the BadCo catalogue, and Romero absolutely nails the track in hand. The original cut’s shiny guitar parts are now replaced with a heavy groove, but it’s a great move for the stomping arrangement, since it gives Romero ample room to tap into a huge vocal that sounds like a cross between Eric Martin shouting through a megaphone and something very faintly Dio-esque. With everyone seemingly loving the simple, chugging arrangement and throwing out huge whoahs, it’s definitely one of those times when a “heavying up” approach is perfect for the song in hand.

The closest Romero comes to going through the motions is during a re-working of Uriah Heep’s ‘Gypsy’. As you might expect, this 70s behemoth is potentially perfect for Ron, and allows plenty of scope for him to deliver a massive performance. He goes in with exactly the kind of sub-Dio roar you’d expect, so with that in mind, it’s actually more entertaining to listen to the band, working really hard throughout. The shift from a dark, semi-flat 70s sound into something closer to power metal is inspired, since it gives Brankovic a broad canvas on which to drop a few complex flourishes and blues inflected metallic leads. He’s especially brilliant during the busy intro, where his dexterous playing and multi-tracked sound evokes ‘Killers’ era Iron Maiden. If you feel like you’ve heard ‘Gypsy’ a few times too often – and let’s face it, Uriah Heep had much better tunes, even in 1970 – this is good enough to allow you to hear it afresh. One of the album’s lesser known selections comes from a swaggering take on Elf’s rarely heard ‘Carolina Country Ball’, where this Ron shares a huge love for a more legendary Ron. Romero’s confident, swaggering vocal has hints of Dio’s original performance over a retro arrangement that straddles bar room rock and proto-metal. As with a couple of the other picks here, very little has been done to change the heart of the arrangement itself, but the production and punch give the tune a more modern edge. Brankovic wields a massively confident lead guitar yet again, but the highlight comes from Del Vecchio, moving away from his usual, beloved pompy organ to play a huge piano solo that’s impeccably approached, evoking a saloon bar in a classic western movie. It’s one of those tracks that’s certainly far more “fun” than “essential”, but if it reminds people of those sometimes overlooked Elf LP’s, then its work is done.

An old Russ Ballard number, ‘Voices’, is much punchier, having been turned from a shiny 80s number into something that sounds more like a Burning Rain cast-off. This is by no means a criticism since it makes the source material sound much less dated, and the heavier tones show how versatile Ballard’s best songs can be. In addition, it would have been really easy for Romero to drop in one of the Ballard songs he’s used to singing live (‘Since You Been Gone’ and ‘I Surrender’), so this has obviously been about shining a light upon something else worthy from a great song writer’s catalogue. A heavy version of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’, on the other hand, is disgusting. Assuming the song came to Romero’s attention via the superior Hendrix recording, it’s a pity in this case that he and his band didn’t see fit to follow that arrangement since it really doesn’t suit the power metal genre. Andy C’s drumming is immense – a performance with a huge amount of weight – and Brankovic, as usual, shows how he is capable of delivering a massive riff or two. It’s a shame then, that there are times when the rhythm and lead parts appear to be attempting to play two different songs whilst Ronnie – in an unenviable job – attempts to link all of the noise with a familiar lyric. Ending up somewhere between Jorn Lande and one of Primal Fear’s slower numbers augmented by an occasionally bluesy lead, it’s a mess that’s best avoided.

There are a whole bunch of Queen tunes that might have suited Romero – especially rockier fare like ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ and ‘White Man’ – so his choice of ‘I Was Born To Love You’ is definitely surprising. Originally a Freddie Mercury solo tune (from the distinctly average ‘Mr. Bad Guy’ album) and later reworked by May, Taylor and Deacon for the posthumous Queen release ‘Made In Heaven’, it couldn’t even be called essential Queen by anyone’s standards. Perhaps that’s why Romero chose it – perhaps he felt it needed more love. Nevertheless, the take on it here is solid with a lead vocal that bravely takes Mercury’s difficult phrasing head on, and although Ronnie occasionally seems a little uncomfortable with the spikier parts of the verse, his presence on the chorus more than shows a great talent. It’s also impressive how this latter day pop tune adapts to multi-layered guitar sounds and the kind of massive rhythmic punch that Queen rarely attempted beyond 1975. It’ll never replace either of the Mercury fronted recordings in your affections, but it’s great to hear Romero seemingly unafraid of trying something a little different. At the tail end of this collection, Romero tackles the slow blues of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ and the vocal is hugely emotive, bluesy – even sort of smoky in places. Romero has been able to tap into the slow burning emotion of the original and make it his own, while the rest of the band go through the motions on one of this disc’s flatter arrangements. The live in the studio sound is great, especially with the reverb off the drums, but that’s no enough to make it sound genuinely passionate. Brankovic plays up a storm elsewhere on this disc, but this shows him unable to capture any of Jimmy Page’s powerful yet sloppy distinctiveness, leaving the track no more than a standard noisy blues. If you expect no more than that, it’s all fine, but as the BadCo and Elf tunes have already proven, this assembled band is capable of so much more.

When ‘Raised On Radio’ is good, it’s very good. …And that applies to pretty much everything except the Dylan travesty and, at a pinch, a rather pedestrian Led Zep cover. The harder edged tunes are a strong showcase for a man with a great and versatile talent, and the more melodic picks show off his decent range admirably without trying too hard. In the main, the bulk of the record runs rings around Jorn Lande’s similar projects for the Frontiers label, and its best selections are a welcome reminder of a few old favourites. In the hands of a lesser talent, a covers album can seem like a lazy road to a quick buck or some kind of contractual obligation, but it’s fair to say that that really isn’t the case here. If you’ve had any interest in any of Ronnie’s previous work beyond those wobbly gigs with Rainbow, then this collection is more than worth an ear.

March 2022

Buy the album here: RONNIE ROMERO – Raised On Radio