While the music is pleasant enough [on San Francisco Dues] the album as a whole is not very exciting. That is, it won't challenge any of the early … LPs by [Berry] you might have in your collection.
The music lacks the conviction, enthusiasm and lithe strength of the young Berry, sounding instead as though it had been ground out to a formula—and small matter if the man responsible for the formula is following it here. It pains me to say this, for I have great respect for Berry and what his music accomplished so beautifully, but much of the stuff here sounds tired and the lyrics often forced, where before they had a delightfully perfect naturalness and a real feeling of spontaneity, however painstakingly that may have been achieved. But that feeling is largely absent here and craft has taken the place of inspiration. Unfortunately, it's no substitute.
On the credit side, there are the increased sensitivity and subtlety of Berry's playing and the obvious attention lavished on the ensemble textures and the overall recorded sound and mix, all of which are handsome. (pp. 60, 62)
Taste being what it is, not everyone will react to the songs themselves in quite the same ways. I found several of them veering dangerously close to bathos and naivete: "Oh, Louisiana, My Dream" (actually a poem recited over a slow riff-like piece dominated by Berry's piano), and "Lonely School Days," which, while quite like a number of Berry's early paeans to adolescence, seems dated and in a curious way quite sad. Nor do I feel that "Festival," which is little more than a litany of performers' and groups' names, comes off too well. "Bordeaux in My Pirough," Berry's attempt at "swamp music" and set to an old cajun melody best known in Hank Williams' setting of it, "Jambalaya," I found embarrassing. Then, too, I think there's something basically wrong with an artist who's paid as many real dues as has Berry during his career having to write a song about paying "San Francisco Dues"; Berry must have felt the same way, for the song comes off sounding pretty forced, its wings clipped by the theme itself. (p. 62)
Pete Welding, "Records: 'San Francisco Dies'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1971; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 95, November 11, 1971, pp. 60, 62.