CD Review of Rockit by Chuck Berry

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starstarstarno starno star Label: American Beat Records
Released: 2007
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Originally released in 1979, Rockit was Berry’s 17th – and, as it turned out, final – studio album of new material. A certified rock legend who influenced all of rock’s pioneers – Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, etc. – Berry quite simply helped create rock and roll. There’s a reason why Berry was the one referenced in the pivotal scene of Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox’ Marty McFly character inadvertently helps launch rock and roll in the 1950s by playing Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” at his parents’ school dance.

Rockit doesn’t rate as high as some of his more classic material, but the essence of what made Berry great is still there. Berry’s snappy riffs and bluesy vocal strutting are all over and superb piano playing from longtime Berry sideman Johnny Johnson, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in his own right, boosts the sound throughout.

Songs like “Oh What a Thrill,” “If I Were,” “House Lights” and “Wuden’t Me” feature Berry’s trademark formula of rocking riffs, boogie-woogie piano and salacious lyrical double entendres. The influence of this formula on the rock and roll explosion of the 1960s is quite simply incalculable when you consider the praise that people like John Lennon, Keith Richards and Jerry Garcia have heaped upon Berry. He never tried to change with the times, always sticking to what he did best. The results here may sound reminiscent of previous material, but there’s still no one else that can deliver the same level of authenticity as Chuck Berry.

Berry brings it down a notch with the simmering blues of “I Need You Baby,” and the song features some more fine work from Johnson. Most of the album is up-tempo, feel-good material, though “Havana Moon” has a shuffling kind of rock syncopation that strays from Berry’s standard formula and would surely sound good with a mojito in hand.

“California” is a rocker that heaps praise all over the Golden State, continuing a famous motif from Berry’s 1965 hit “Promised Land,” and lyrically prescient of hip-hop star Tupac Shakur’s classic “California Love.” It’s only too bad that Berry didn’t jam that song out further during the recording instead of ending the album with the throwaway track “Pass Away,” which sees Berry offering strange spoken word musings over what sounds like a drum machine and barely audible guitar and piano. Berry is no Jim Morrison on this front, and perhaps this is why he rarely strayed from his tried and true formula. Ultimately though, the album is a testament to the simple rock and roll formula that Berry helped pioneer.

~Greg Schwartz