Your crusty chronicler is an individual who generally does his own thing. Still, when Examiner asked for support for their new “List” format, it was nigh impossible not to be open-minded about it. So, with the spirit of teamwork and unity in mind, your rockin’ reviewer presents this series—“Track by Track” in which we review certain select CDs literally “track by track”. This edition we (ahem) examine Richie Onori’s Blues Messenger’s debut disc In The Name Of Freedom.
For those not up on these independent artists, Onori is a singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist (lead vocals, drums, guitar and harmonica) best known as the drummer for the iconic 1970s band The Sweet–“Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On The Run”—he first hit the scene at the age of 16 as a member of ? and the Mysterians (famous for the classic “96 Tears”). He was also in the group Satyr where he opened for such other acts as Aerosmith and Alice Cooper.
(View the list to learn more about Onori’s music.)
“Power to the People”
The nine-track disc opens on “Power to the People”. Not to be confused with the 1971 John Lennon hit of the same name, this one is an original song by Onori. Here he is backed by Marvin Sperling (bass), Phil Woodward (lead guitar), producer Dave Jenkins (Hammond B3 organ and backing vocals) and Valery Davis, Alicia Morgan (The Scorch Sisters, The Scarletts, Suze Lanier-Bramlett) and Robbyn Kirmssé on background vocals.
It’s a call-to-action cut which opens a thematic work focused on “human rights and individual freedom.” Onori opines: “The system is rigged in such a way that ‘we the people’ are pitted against each other to create controversy, chaos and fear. Their intent is to distract the attention away from them. We can’t, as citizens, come together to defeat this attack if we don’t know who the real targets are. There are very few who know who the targets are—do you?”
“Hey You (Better Think Again)”
The songs here are often united by sound bite segues that are apropos to the subject of each song. The second selection is “Hey You (Better Think Again)”. This, like the rest of the tracks, is an Onori composition and introduces David Chamberlain (bass) and Francesca Capasso (The Scorch Sisters) on backing vocals. Woodward, Jenkins and Morgan also return to flesh out the track.
“Long Live Rock”
The line-up remains the same on “Long Live Rock” as on the prior cut. Not to be confused with the 1972 hit by The Who, this a new song with a music fan-friendly title. The group pulls it off as a cohesive studio unit as Onori seems to espouse the power of rock music in terms of political activism.
The next number is “American Fighters”. This is one of the more obvious reasons why Onori had originally scheduled a July 4th release date. The work has a patriotic albeit political slant to it and he doesn’t seem to make any bones about it. The track features Mark Meadows (bass), Dickie Sims (organ), Ben Schultz (slide guitar) and Aina Skinnes O’Kane (background vocals). Capasso and Jenkins remain as well.
“Buffalo Nation” seems slightly out of place somehow. Then again, when putting together an album about Americans it wouldn’t be “PC” for Onori to omit the perceived natives. This might also be seen as a cry for a return to simplicity as well but even if not there’s no crime in trying to write the next “Indian Reservation (Cherokee People)”. John ‘J.T.’ Thomas is featured on the organ as Onori is otherwise backed by the same group as on tracks 2 and 3 with Jenkins now playing synth keyboards.
The sixth selection, “Blues Messenger” is the band’s theme song. The name is no doubt a tip of the hat to Onori’s musical roots as well as the political slant of these recent recordings. Oddly, this namesake number brings in new faces in the form of bassist Will McGregor and keyboardist Jon Greathouse. Capasso and O’Kane provide familiar backing vocals.
“In The Name of Freedom”
The titular track, “In The Name of Freedom”, appears to be like another audio on which Onori expresses initial concern about freedoms being threatened and the populace perhaps being overly controlled. Sal Rodriguez is brought in to add something different on the congas while Chamberlain, Thomas, Jenkins, Capasso and Morgan return.
“Come Together We’re the U.S.A.”
The anthem-like cut “Come Together We’re the U.S.A.” follows here as the disc begins to wind to a close. Here Onori brings in Chris Mostert on saxophone, Bill Lamb on trumpet and Mark Josephson on violin. The sound is fleshed out with the return of Meadows, Greathouse, Sims, Schultz, Capasso and Jenkins.
“The Answer” is the activist album’s end-note. It is appropriate that Onori offers an answer after posing political ponderings that often musically question the state of the nation. Here he is backed by the encore appearances of McGregor, Sims, Capasso and O’Kane. It certainly reveals another aspect of the performer.
There are moments in the music that reflect back on the recent past and even many of the song titles are familiar and yet Onori still manages to make sure to leave his mark. It’s interesting that the ex-Sweet member now has an obvious aversion to corporate music. The release has a definite 1960s rock-the-country-right-with-song underlying this present project.
Onori seems right when he says that we should “focus on what is ethically right instead of being separated and distracted by this petty political circus in front of us.” So if you’re looking for an activist album then check out Richie Onori’s Blues Messenger’s In The Name Of Freedom. Onori and company just might have “The Answer”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.