Ronnie Romero has one of the toughest jobs in rock. As the singer in Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, he must fill the shoes of many past vocal champions: Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, as well as Ian Gillan and David Coverdale from Deep Purple. The really difficult thing about it is the main guy he’s compared to: Dio. Fortunately, this Ronnie is no Dio clone.
Blackmore’s newest incarnation of Rainbow has been doing light touring and recording new material. From their 2016 show in Birmingham comes this live album, a welcome addition to the Rainbow catalogue. 20 years since their last tour with White, Rainbow has an all-new lineup including Jens Johansson, the top rated keyboard player who made his fame with Yngwie Malmsteen and Dio himself. Also on board are members of Ritchie’s acoustic Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night: David Keith and Bob Nouveau on drums and bass. Backing them are singers Lady Lynn and Candice Night from the same project.
What everything really has to come down to is the lead vocalist. Ronnie Romero cut his teeth with Chilean band Lords of Black, a power metal group with some minor Blackmore influences. Ritchie obviously has a good ear. One wouldn’t immediately think of Romero has the next singer for Rainbow, but the fit is good and snug. Ronnie can sing the old Dio material and is an instantly likeable frontman. He has the power and range available to do Dio material, but his rasp is actually reminiscent of another Rainbow singer, Graham Bonnet. On this album, Romero does the hit single “Since You Been Gone”, originally performed with Graham. It’s the most authentic version of the song since the original.
As online forums have discussed and debated, Rainbow have a very Purple-heavy set. Nine songs are Purple classics, making up the majority, including an odd choice in “Child in Time”. Have Rainbow ever performed that song before? Perhaps it was put back in the set simply because Purple haven’t played it in 20 years either. “Burn” is no problem for Ronnie Romero though. He’s very comfortable in David Coverdale’s range.
Could more Rainbow songs have been squeezed in at the expense of a Purple oldie like “Woman From Tokyo” or “Highway Star”? Sure. But it’s Ritchie’s ball game. He wrote those songs, and if he wants to open his set with “Highway Star”, he sure can. “Soldier of Fortune” originally from Stormbringer is a surprise and all the more successful for it. Whitesnake will sometimes play it live, but Purple do not, and Rainbow may never have before. That leaves seven Rainbow songs, mostly Dio era. “Stargazer”, “Catch the Rainbow” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” are indispensable.
The only real issue with the recording lies with Ritchie. The guitar should be louder. It’s far too quiet. You cannot hear enough of what he is doing. Comparing to another live album, Black Masquerade recorded in 1995, the guitar was in your face and seemed more aggressive. It seems strange that a guitar-dominated band like Rainbow would have the instrument toned down on the live album, but many listeners have said the same thing: “Needs more guitar”.
All the new musicians are more than capable, and after hearing these songs done a million times, it’s nice to hear some new twists on solos and fills. Romero’s native tongue is Spanish, and there are times he slips up on some old Deep Purple lyrics (particularly “Perfect Strangers”). This never matters, because nobody screws up Deep Purple lyrics more than Ian Gillan himself! The main thing is Romero has the right voice. It’s unbelievable that he can sing a long set like this with such power throughout, seemingly with ease.
Long live rock ‘n’ roll, long live Rainbow, and long live Ronnie Romero. It’s easy to be skeptical, but most doubters will be silenced by the newest incarnation of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. This is a pleasant surprise and one of Rainbow’s most enjoyable live albums due to the charismatic Romero.