Mike Zito & Friends’ "Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry" is released on Friday 1st November 2019 on Ruf Records, and this album is exactly what its title suggests. Here, over 20 tracks, some of the best contemporary guitar players in the world add their own take to the legendary songs of Chuck Berry
This album really is one for the fans, and possibly for Chuck Berry fans too. If you are a completist and want everything that WALTER TROUT, JOE BONAMASSA, LUTHER DICKINSON and the other talents featured on this album have done, then this one is probably going to be added to your collection.
I have to admit some mixed feelings about this album. There is no doubting the level of talent featured on this album, or the spirit that every track is performed with to give it a “unique” and often very personal take on the music but, at the end of the day, this is an album of 20 Chuck Berry songs, and no one for me will ever do a Chuck Berry song like Chuck Berry.
The one thing that this album does bring into sharp and stark focus is just what the musical legacy of Chuck Berry really is, and how songs like “Johnny B Goode”, “Maybellene” and “No Particular Place To Go” are not just songs, but some of the very foundations upon which everything that we have come to call rock’n’roll is built. Without many of these songs, countless bands and guitarists would have had little to play over the last half century and more.
There are some very interesting takes here on classic songs by some great names, but often they are too complex, too clean and losing some of the simplicity and earthiness that turned a whole generation onto the new wonders of this strange and often primeval music they were starting to call rock’n’roll. I’m not saying here that Chuck Berry songs are simple songs, but that somehow he managed to distil them to their very essence. There is often too, a great tongue in cheek humour running through some of Chuck Berry’s songs, and somehow a little of that humour is gone here. There is also an emotional warmth to some of these songs, and one of my favourites from Chuck Berry is always “You Never Can Tell”, but somehow some of that warmth seems to have been lost here in favour of more technical precision.
This album really has to be taken for what it is, a tribute from some of today’s finest artists to not only someone who has inspired every one of them, but a man who was there at the very birth of rock’n’roll laying down the sounds that with a few of his contemporaries became immortal and spread around the globe, music that many thought would last a few years that has proven all the doubters wrong and still shows no signs of being silenced, and an album like this one is making sure that the legacy of Chuck Berry continues on to a new generation of music lovers.
Review by Tom King