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Chuck Berry, who sadly left us two years ago at the age of ninety, was indubitably a legend. An overused word that seems to be bandied around these days when over-zealously describing any fanboy fetishizing of whoever’s unjustly lauded with ostentatious praise (I’ve even heard the term used for that overrated, plagiaristic busker, Ed Sheeran), “legend” should only ever be reserved for the rare few genuine pioneers who have pushed the parameters of their creativity; those who became seminal artists within their own lifetime, and beyond. And I don’t think anyone would be able to put forward a counter argument that would refute the legend status attained by Chuck Berry… even though ‘Back to the Future’ tried to rewrite history: “Chuck, it’s Marvin; your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you’re looking for? Well, listen to this…”

So, two years after Berry’s passing, we have a great tribute here, courtesy of Mike Zito and Friends. Often, these kind of tribute related collections are constituted by existing cover versions of a particular artist or band's works, already recorded as b-sides, bonus tracks, etc, and collated for some sort of cash-in. Not the case here; there's far more sincerity to this project. Zito, the American blues rock musician, recorded all the music, playing guitar and singing, alongside sticksman Matthew Johnson, bassist Terry Dry and piano/organ/ Wurlitzer guy, Lewis Stephens. Produced by his own hand at his Marz Studios, Zito subsequently sent out the tracks to a whopping twenty one guitarists for them to lay down their parts remotely, in the comfort of their own studios… including Chuck’s very own grandson, Charles Berry III!

A year in the making, this ambitious project has resulted in a well-rounded collection of covers, with some fine performances from a whole array of fretboard luminaries. The likes of Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Richard Fortus and Ally Venable all pay tribute to Berry here, with their distinct lead work. However, I have to say that Alex Skolnick's contribution to 'Down Bound Train' is a definite highlight. This could be me being biased as I've always been a big admirer of the man’s playing and musicality, be it through his thrash metal day-job in Testament or within the context of his jazz-noodling side-project, the Alex Skolnick Trio. On 'Down Bound Train', he brings his A-game chops to the table, as well as a sense of graceful and refined shred to the rock 'n' roll party. Brilliant!

There are also covers of covers here, including a version of Berry’s take on Dave Bartholomew’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’. A song which I’m aware was subject to all kinds of ridiculous controversy back in the early 70s, it’s no more than a harmless innuendo in the twenty first century: “My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling, I want you to play with my ding-a-ling”. And it’s certainly not as sinister as Rolf Harris’ ‘Jake the Peg’ has become, with his “extra leg”. Hmmm… moving swiftly on…

All in all, this is an axiomatic passion project that pays homage to one of the greats; one of rock's seminal musicians, who helped push the parameters of rock ‘n’ roll back in the day. There's no parameter pushing here, as such; rather, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry' is a solid, well-produced album, with some fine performances across twenty sonic salutations to this indubitable legend.
Ruf Records
Review by Mark Holmes
1st Nov 2019
1) St Louis Blues; 2) Rock and Roll Music; 3) Johnny B Goode; 4) Wee Wee Hours; 5) Memphis; 6) I Want to Be Your Driver; 7) You Never Can Tell; 8) Back in the USA; 9) No Particular Place to Go; 10) Too Much Monkey Business; 11) Havana Moon; 12) Promised Land; 13) Down Bound Train; 14) Maybellene; 15) School Days; 16) Brown Eyed Handsome Man; 17) Reelin' and Rockin'; 18) Let it Rock; 19) Thirty Days; 20) My Ding a Ling
"...a solid, well-produced album, with some fine performances across twenty sonic salutations to this indubitable legend."