Album Reviews
Band: Mike Zito & Friends

Title: Rock & Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry

Label: RUF

Anyone who loves music, especially good music (!!) knows who Chuck Berry was, mainly due to all those wonderful songs he gave the World from the late 50's until the early 70's (My Ding-a-Ling anybody?!), also maybes his slightly 'turbulent' private life, and somewhere along the line possibly any band/singer worth their weight in Gold will have covered one of his songs at some time in their career.  This time, Blues aficionado Mike Zito takes his turn to show his appreciation of the legend and has released an album full of classic Berry tunes, and this time he's bought along some very special friends to help out!  Along with his own band, Matthew Johnson (D,V), Terry Dry (BG,V) and Lewis Stephens (K), Zito sprinkles some of his own magic over 20 tracks with said friends, kicking off with 'St.Louis Blues' joined by none other than Berry's own grandson Chuck Berry III, which has been given a slight face-lift with a tad more of a rocking feel and horn section that flits in and out. 

 

Chicago-based Blues singer/guitarist Joanna Connor takes joint guitar / vocal duties on 'Rock and Roll Music', again those horns playing a major part for some 'oomphing ', (this one I first heard by The Beatles when I was a nipper), then who remembers that classic scene in the 1985 film 'Back To The Future' when Michael J Fox gets a little carried away on the guitar whilst playing 'Johnny B Goode'? Yeah ... well the version here featuring Walter Trout makes mince meat outta that! Jeez, this is a guitar fest at it's very best, and the vocals by both, you can tell they're done with a huge smile on both their faces!

 

There are some songs that some of us will not be too acquainted with, one of them (for me) is the 'get down 'n dirty' Blues gem 'Wee Wee Hours' where the man with the Golden Touch, Joe Bonamassa shows us all just why ... well ... just why, simple as that, listen to this and you know why, that guitar just talks the talk, while it walks the walk during the well known 'Memphis', award winning New Orleans songwriter Anders Osborne in tow this time on this lovely shuffler.  Now, listening to the lyrics to 'I Want To Be Your Driver', you can tell Berry was VERY interested in the opposite sex, as they are as double-entendred as you can get on this pacey 'lil number which co-stars Ryan Perry, I mean, c'mon 'I would like to ride you around'!!!! Tut, tut chaps! 

 

Another film associated track comes along with 'You Can Never Tell', yeah that one from the iconic dance scene in 'Pulp Fiction' with John and Uma, featuring Californian blues/jazz guitarist Robben Ford with Zito this time, and on the rip-roaring 'Back In The USA', man of the moment Eric Gales breezes through the track like Storm Derek! For me, probably the most covered of Berry's songs is 'No Particular Place To Go', and along with Jeremiah Johnson at his side, they almost stick to the original, that is until the solo-fest kicks in and off they go, followed by the jaunty, slightly loose but fun 'Too Much Monkey Business' slides in with Zito and The North Mississippi Allstars vocalist/guitarist Luther Dickinson sounding as if they're having a whale of a time!

 

The oh so smooth sounding 'Havana Moon' comes next, the gentle, breeze through the hair vibe bought to us via  Louisiana star Sonny Landreth's aid, then another one of those much covered gems, 'Promised Land' comes in with a blast on the horns and Tinsley Ellis in tandem to Rock it all up for good measure. 

 

If you really want to make a statement on a Berry cover, why not get a Thrash Metal guitarist to ruffle the feathers! Yes sir, Alex Skolnick of Testament fame brings a new life to Down Bound Train', this track simply oozes class with some lush guitar work, especially the solos that are second to none, the vocals laid back but just as important here, making this song one of the stand-out moments on the album.  Oh Yeaaah!! Just as that track is laid back as they come, 'Maybellene' is as jaunty and 'yeehaw' as Zito and GNR guitarist Richard Fortus could ever get it, spit, sawdust 'n stetson a must when you listen to this 'un, as is 'School Days' featuring Rusk County Blues / Rockin' singer / guitarist Ally Venable. 

 

'Brown Eyed Handsome Man' gets a touch of New Orleans spirit as Californian Kirk Fletcher and Nashville's Josh Smith partner up to give the song a new lease of life, whilst San Jose's own Tommy Castro puts his boot into 'Reelin' And Rockin'' the two stars having an absolute ball as they try to outdo each other, for fun ,obviously!  There's nowt as good as a bit of Boogie-Woogie, and that's what Zito and Basic Cable Band's Jimmy Vivino bring to the table on the glorious, over the top 'Let It Rock', full 'o life and impossible not to sit still to, in fact this reviewer was sitting wiggling his ass cheeks in total glee, so when 'Thirty Days' featuring New Yorker Albert Castiglia slams in, it's no wonder a little 'Tommy-Squeeker' poots out, this is total slam-dunk 'beer n' sing-along' Heaven!! 

It had to happen, didn't it! Fortunately it's the final track on this glorious album, but 'My Ding-a Ling' does eventually get a much needed make-over, and who better than Norwegian Blues guitarist to try his best at making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It has never in my lifetime been a song with any affection shown towards it, but Anderson, with the help of Zito and a horn section (no pun intended!!) makes the 1972 monstrosity just that bit more bearable, but not much. 

 

I know I've mentioned every guest that appears on 'Mike Zito And Friends Rock 'N' Roll A Tribute To Chuck Berry', but without their input, this album would simply not have happened, and that's why, even if it took a good part of a year for it to be done, apparently, it was all worth it in the long run.  The most fun to be had on CD, vinyl, whatever form you can get it on, just get it!!

 

Review by: Robb Baldwin

 

Tracklisting:

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 Can Never 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

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