Cliff Richard 

Just…Fabulous Rock’n’Roll

(Sony Music)

Richard soon lost his very early tag as the UK ‘s Elvis Presley because his own style of rock n’ roll and totally different vocal timbre and delivery gave him his own appeal. Of course, much of this was abetted by his group The Shadows (formerly The Drifters) whose Burns and Fender guitar stylings had a distinct flavour even when set against US outfits like The Ventures. Hence, pleasing it is to see Cliff still enjoying a prospect of a rock-fuelled national tour. Cliff never left rock n’roll and it certainly never left him…

This new set finds the veteran singer back in one of his favoured haunts – the Nashville recording studios. This is where Cliff feels he can capture the punchy but tuneful rock’n’roll sound he seeks to put over songs in the rock’n’roll vein. He has done it before and that Richard feels comfortable in this recording context is in little doubt when you hear the results.

Producer Steve Mandile knows the gear, the settings, the reverbs and the personnel to bottle this roots spirit quickly and successfully. A guitarist himself, Mandile can be heard on all cuts but also playing off axeman Rob Houston and even on one selection our own Peter Frampton. Bass comes from John Howard and Alison Prestwood, keys by Dane Bryant, drumming Chuck Tilley.Max Abrams plays sax.

A lot of the numbers have been heard a thousand times by everyone on the planet, can Cliff blow the dust off them? Kicking off the running order is one of my least favourite projects – adding contemporary vocals to an old recording, for a duet with one deceased partner. How much better it would have been to have say James Burton play on a freshly recorded track. But for those who like this sort of thing, this is Cliff singing alongside forty-years-gone Elvis Presley on Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes.

Butterfly is the Mann-Lowe composition and Cliff hits the ground running with a tuneful vocal and lively delivery. A neat piano break just before the middle eight, all classic stuff and even guitar tones reflecting the jukebox era ; the first of two Chuck Berry songs here is Sweet Little Sixteen.

I am working on a Chuck Berry project at present and the number of wonderful songs he has written is staggering, so many of them great stories like Tulane or Jaguar & The Thunderbird.   The key choice is spot on and Richard sings it straight with a hint of delay on the vocal, the piano hinting at the great Johnny Johnson who sprayed Chuck’s Chess recordings with daring runs. I had the chance to discuss JJ with Billy Gibbons of Z Z Top last month.

She’s Got It is a Little Richard gem and Cliff pounds this one out with rasping sax in the mix and a brisk foot-tapping tempo, a dense and authentic sound as throughout the record a tad less booming than the original Sun and RCA Victor and London studio recording timbre; his Latest Flame is of course Elvis’ territory and the brisk guitar chording hints at Bo Diddley.   Listenable, but Richard doesn’t really make it this own. The baritone guitar works well.

Move It was an early hit for Richard and the Samwell song still thrills, the guitars slightly distorted here which sounds cool and Cliff singing with great authority, as well he might. A terrific version of a genuinely classic song, pacey guitar solo and all. It’s over to Sam Cooke territory for You Send Me and like Rod Stewart, Cliff has a soft spot for the man’s savvy songs.

A simple acoustic-based backing and brush drumming and Cliff does his thing with the phrasing. A fine laidback interlude.. A Jerry Lee Lewis medley of Great Balls Of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ takes the songs nowhere new; the third Berry outing is on Memphis Tennessee is a handclapping party of a song, thumping beat and chugging guitars.

Sometimes they seem to change chords late, but no matter as this may be the best vocal on the set along with Dimples. I was expecting an Orbison tune at some point but here is an Everlys’ cut Cathy’s Clown, always a good number for drummers in my experience.   This one sounds a bit traditional but it’s such a good selection and is sung so well you just can’t carp.

I’d love to hear Richard tackle The Price Of Love. Keep A Knockin’ takes us back to Little Richard flows along with a great backbeat, the sax upping the Noo Awlins vibe and again that lovely piano. Final selection is a new song It’s Better To Dream by Mandile-Childs and what a song, almost a Jacques Brel melody and sunset-warm musical blend.

It fits in well as it has a definite period feel. Say, like Love Letters In The Sand. Cliff sings it with precision and heart.   It could be said that with those mostly ancient songs, Richard is more curator than creator however if you consider the feel the man and this group has for this material this would be a churlish remark. Would you turn down tomato soup and a cheese sandwich from Delia Smith? No – you’d relish the results. This album will not disappoint faithful followers or the curious and uses one of music’s most distinctive voices to full effect.

Pete Sargeant


Cliff Richard’s new album ‘Just… Fabulous Rock’n’Roll’ is out now on Sony Music. In addition, Cliff Richard will be embarking on a very special UK and Ireland Tour in June and July 2017 which will see him perform with specially-designed seating for Cliff and his fans at beautiful outdoor settings and historic locations. For dates, venues and tickets read our announcement here: 
Cliff Richard