Chuck Berry

San Francisco Dues

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Chuck Berry's second record for Chess following his return to the label in 1970 is a sincere effort at sounding contemporary that yields mixed results. Parts of it, such as "Oh Louisiana," are moodier, more meandering pieces than one is used to from him, and "Bordeaux in My Pirough" is a not too skillful rewrite of "Jambalaya." Others, such as "Your Lick" and "Festival," are attempts at adapting his classic sound to the tastes and sensibilities of the late '60s/early '70s -- the latter track, the title cut, "Viva Rock & Roll," and "Lonely School Days" are all respectable efforts, if not nearly enough to hang an album around, and none would be out of place on an appropriate anthology covering Berry's post-1965 career. "My Dream (Poem)" shows Berry getting serious (and playing the piano for a change) and presenting a side of himself that is usually masked by his prodigious musical cleverness. For all of its good points, however, too much of San Francisco Dues just isn't that interesting as music, a charge that could never have been leveled at even the poorest of Berry's late-'50s work. Ironically, it was his next album, The London Chuck Berry Sessions, that would recharge his commercial batteries, principally by going back to the roots he was drawing on only furtively here.

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