Ronnie Wood With His Wild Five
Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry
Ronnie Wood has been a student of rock guitar for decades. From the Faces to the Rolling Stones to his new group, the Wild Five, he has given us some classic licks and riffs. But before that, he was listening. He was listening to the birth of rock and roll, and his new project is a series of tribute albums dedicated to the work of guitarists who inspire him. The first one is Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry. Recorded live at Wimborne’s Tivoli Theatre in 2018, this session offers up several of Berry’s classic hits, along with an opening number original, “Tribute to Chuck Berry,” that serves as a biography of the icon and an introduction for the evening.
Musically, the songs are near perfect. The riffs are solid and the rhythm section sets the tempo flawlessly. The only downside is in Wood’s vocals. When you are used to him backing a singer like Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger, you don’t notice his Dylan/Petty-esque nasal whine. But here it’s front and center. And while it may be a good fit for some songs (“Tribute to Chuck Berry” and “Talkin’ Bout You”), it doesn’t deliver the bluesy backbone you expect for some of these classics like “Back in the USA” and “Johnny B Goode.” Two instrumental tracks (“Mad Lad” and “Blue Feeling”) are grooving boogie-woogie barn burners that really showcase the Wild Five and pianist Ben Waters. The highlights, however, are the tracks fronted by Irish songstress Imelda May. Her soulful vocals elevate what might otherwise be a vanity project into an unforgettable experience. I wish I had been in the audience when she first belted out the opening to “Wee Wee Hours,” and she brings the tempo back up with the best rendition of “Rock and Roll Music” since The Beatles hit the scene. May also provides backing vocals on “Almost Grown.”
I am looking forward to hearing what the other tribute albums sound like, who the subjects are and who might appear as guests. I have been driving around listening to this album for days, just enjoying some good old rock and roll. Fans of Chuck Berry or Ronnie Wood should definitely give this a listen, but collectors might want to wait to purchase until the series has been released, in case there is a box set. For those who want it now, the album is out November 15, with cover artwork of Berry painted by Wood. It is available digitally, on CD, vinyl, and in deluxe limited sets.