By TOM CHESEK
Who is E Rick Rinaldi?
Regular followers of events at the Count Basie Theatre might be forgiven for asking precisely that question, given the fact that the Monmouth Street landmark generally showcases entertainers who’ve achieved a certain landmark status themselves including, on May 7, Bruce Springsteen.
As it turns out, E Rick the dot after the E was apparently jettisoned to conserve fuel sometime around the release of his first CD is a Jersey-fresh product of the Garden State himself; a resident of Blue Anchor in Camden County and a man who left a successful family business in real estate to devote himself to his passionate pursuit of making music for America; a nation that, the composer asserts, Needs a Hug.
It’s a mission that brings the Philly-born Rinaldi and his six-piece band to Red Bank this Saturday night for a special concert presentation entitled Where Rivers Run. Dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, the 90-minute program uses the maestro’s original songs and video projections to “take the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride through time” a decade-by-decade voyage through “the major events of the last hundred years,” delivered by Rinaldi and company via “his new genre of music called Classical Rock Symphonic.”
From the publicity material for the project: “Rinaldi…believes ‘America Needs a Hug’ and he delivers it through the passion of his music. Accompanied by five world-class musicians and vocalists, the music of Rinaldi’s Where Rivers Run concert will climb into your deepest chambers and refuse to be dislodged.”
So who is E Rick Rinaldi? Calling from the home studio on his farm, the 53-year old musician-poet-lyricist-novelist characterizes himself as “pretty well-grounded;” a “quiet guy with no aspirations of stardom, who will be happy writing and performing for as long as I have feet to carry me.”
A lap around the artist’s extensive website reveals a generous sampling of sounds from his various self-issued CDs; synth-laden instrumental pieces that evoke the mellower, statelier side of Chip Davis, the impresario behind Mannheim Steamroller. Other Rinaldi favorites mentioned on his spelling-challenged bio include “Victor Borga,” “Maria Calis” and “Bobby Darren.”
Playing out live with a full combo that includes guitarist Dale Richards and Nashville-based vocalist Lori Toy, Rinaldi paints from a more varied palette for the song cycle Where Rivers Run; a sound that carries echoes of “progressive” rock’s album-radio golden age. It’s a journey that passes through “the roaring 1920s, the uncertainty of the 1930s, the glory in the USA that was the end of WWII, the fun 1950s, the unbalance of the 1960s, the crazy 1970s, the rebound of America in the 1980s and 1990s, the feelings shared on September 11, and the wonder of today” with such historic signposts as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the assassinations of JFK and MLK.
It’s also a project that evolved from an inspiration close to home. The composer’s son, US Air Force Tech Sgt. Michael J. Rinaldi, is a veteran of six tours in Iraq, and it was in his honor that the senior Rinaldi crafted the composition “Michael’s Song” on his debut release, 2006’s This Time, a disc that also featured the service tribute “Saving Baghdad.”
As Rinaldi says, “After my son’s return, it was like he changed a little bit…no matter where you stand on things, the guys and gals of the armed forces deserve our thanks.”
To those who might take issue with his perceived position on the Bush wars or the “rebound” of the Reagan era, Rinaldi emphasizes that his music takes “no political stance whatsoever…out of respect for other opinions, I keep mine harbored.”
“We’ve been through rough times before, but we always bounce back,” Rinaldi says in reference to the American spirit and its do-it-yourself “indie” corollary. “I want to share this message…the only way to do it is to put your art out there, if you believe in it.”
Saturday’s concert, the second in a planned tour (the show made its world premiere in Collingswood’s Scottish Rite Auditorium on April 19) that’s scheduled to include stops in Pennsylvania and Nashville, is available at a half-price discount to active members of the armed forces. According to Rinaldi, “anyone in the military can get fifty percent off their ticket if they mention the code WRRVET when they make their reservation,” an offer which the artist is relying upon the public to honor with all good faith and courtesy.
Tickets ($30-$50) for the 8p show can be reserved by visiting the theatre’s online box office here.