Mike Berry & The Crickets

MIKE BERRY & THE CRICKETS
About Time Too!
Rollercoaster RCCD 3059

Mike Berry & The Crickets

Tracks:  Bullmoose / Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache / Midnight Special / Slow Down / The Clouds Will Soon Roll By / Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right / (Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I / Walk Right Back / Fool’s Paradise / Queen Of The Hop / Before I Grow Too Old / I Wonder In Whose Arms / Cozumel / Summertime Blues / Pretend / I’m Feeling Sorry / I’m Gonna Set My Foot Right Down / Jambalaya
(Playing time: 49:15)

This CD is good – really good. Of course the title says it all: Mike Berry has been singing and recording Buddy Holly & The Crickets songs since the early ’60s (remember his show on Radio Luxembourg?), and even performed on stage with The Crickets back in ‘ 1962. His version of  ‘Stay Close To Me’, the song that Holly wrote but, as far as we know, never recorded, was one of the highlights of the 1992 ‘Buddy’s Buddys’ compilation. Chas Hodges (with some help from John Beecher?) finally got Mike and The Crickets (Sonny Curtis on guitar, J.I. Allison on drums and Joe B. Mauldin on bass) into the studio in Nashville last year to record this very interesting collection of songs. Chas plays piano on most tracks, and guitar on some, and he and Sonny add some tasty backing vocals.

They could have taken the easy road and gone through the Holly songbook, but they have included just two of the Texan’s lesser-known songs — ‘I’m Gonna Set My Foot Right Down’ and ‘Fools Paradise’. The latter has a slightly different arrangement and a lead vocal from Sonny, with some great harmonies. The rest of the tracks cover the gamut, going right back to the 1932 classic ‘The Clouds Will Soon Roll By’: a risky choice, but it works. The same can be said of ‘Cozumel’, a Jimmy Buffett-type of song, written and originally recorded by Don White, that I was all ready to hate. And yet I loved all 4 minutes and 29 seconds of it!

Apart from Holly, only one 0ther singer has two songs included, and that’s Bobby Darin. ‘Queen Of The Top’ is given a straightahead arrangement, and the CD kicks off with lesser-known ‘B’-side, ‘Bullmoose’. This is followed by one of the greatest mid-tempo countryish ballads, ‘Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache’. And of course Mike can rock with the best of them, as he demonstrates on Larry Williams’ ‘Slow Down’, which also features some great piano from Chas. All those tours backing Jerry Lee certainly taught him a lot.

And talking of Mr. Lewis, there’s a great version of the Jack Clement-penned ‘I’m Feeling Sorry’. And naturally one of Sonny Curtis’ songs is also featured; in this case the timeless ‘Walk Right Back’ (with the verse that hadn’t been written when Don & Phil recorded it). Sonny also gets one track all to himself — ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’ — with some great finger-picking guitar, though it must be said that this track does seem a little out of place in this collection of rockers. Speaking of which, Jerry Allison takes the lead (with Joe B. doing the deep voice) on ‘Summertime Blues’ — always one of the highlights of The Crickets’ live shows. Theres some powerful drumming on this one.

Finally, there’s one track that’s an absolute masterpiece: Bobby Charles’ ‘Before I Grow Too Old’. Fats Domino, Tommy McLain and Bobby himself did great versions of this song, and the Berry / Crickets rendition is right up there with them. I don’t know how long they worked on this — it includes some very effective guitar from Chas — but it totally works. It’s a track to play over and over; just a shame it doesn’t last longer. I used to think that ‘Stay Close To Me’ was the best thing Mike has ever done in his 40-plus year career, but this surpasses even that!

Mike and The Crickets could easily have coasted through some of the old standard rock n roll songs, and would probably have produced a very listenable collection. But they and Chas Hodges have done much more than that, and produced 18 really strong tracks — including one absolute gem that I cannot get out of my head — that stand the test of repeated listening.

Colin Davies

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