Bernie Marsden: Chess Review
Out in November 2021, Chess is the newest album by the English legendary hitmaker Bernie Marsden (ex-UFO, ex-Whitesnake). The album is part of a trilogy that started with the album Kings (2021) and a brand new album to be released in the near future as part of this project by Marsden and the label Conquest Music. In this context, as a sequence of Kings, Chess comes to praise a lot of traditional blues (and rock) legends like Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, among others.
Starting with Little Walter’s anthem, “Just Your Fool” keeps the structure and strength shown in the originals, just played in the most refined way possible by Bernie and his band. It’s a traditional blues where the harmonica plays a vital role in permitting the verses here and there as well as the guitar parts. “Back In The USA” praises the seminal rock and roll father Chuck Berry. For those who are familiar with him, only 10 seconds are sufficient to guess who is the author and what path the song will go through. The multi-recorded classic “Grits Ain’t Groceries” also received Bernie’s version in this album.
Willie Dixon is reverenced in a sequence of two songs “I’m Ready” and “You Can’t Judge A Book”. The first one is more cadenced, with the harmonica giving the pace. The last has a rock appeal, with a brilliant guitar playing in the background. “I Can’t Hold On” can probably be classified as the most traditional blues on this album, bringing the classical elements of the genre as slides, I-IV-V shuffle, as well as harmonica and guitar solos. In Albert King’s slow blues “Won’t Be Hanging Around”, Bernie lends his most emotive vocals and stunning guitar parts in the album.
“Fattening Frogs For Snakes” brings two guitar lines that talk to each other during the song. “That’s Alright” is another traditional blues, but its highlight is the perfect guitar solo, all played in clean tones over a discrete harmonica base alongside the competent kitchen. “Who’s Been Talking” is the source where Santana and so many others tapped into after its release in 1962 by Howlin’ Wolf. On Chess, Bernie puts all his body and soul in that song to praise the author. “Lester” and “Johnny” are the final tracks of the album. As occurred in Kings, they are instrumental songs penned by Bernie, wrapping up his tribute to the blues.
Chess is an album that fits perfectly in its context of rendering homages to blues legends linked in some way to the also legendary homonymous record label. It was recorded following the old recipe with all the musicians in the same room, interacting with each other. This method itself ensures a totally different taste to the songs. So, don’t expect to hear extravagances on guitar or another instrument. Bernie is a talented musician who has proved himself throughout time. And now, considering this blues trilogy, he shows one more time how to pick songs and sculpt his personality over them.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Just Your Fool
– You Can’t Judge A Book
– I Can’t Hold On
– Who’s Been Talking
The Big Hit
– Just Your Fool