Chuck Berry – Chuck
Chuck Berry – Chuck
(Chuck, Dualtone – 80302-01793-25 – June 9, 2017)
The final album
When the release of Chuck Berry‘s final album was announced this year, lot of us probably thought something like “Oh, ok, some oldies but goodies on it?” But it turned out that Chuck Berry was more alive and kicking than expected at his age. Unfortunately, Berry died on March 18, 2017, between the announcement of its recording on his 90th birthday and the album release of “Chuck” on June 9, 2017.
Have low expectations?
Maybe the expectations of a new album weren’t that high. The previous album with new material dates from 1979 and Chuck Berry has always been more of a singles man than an album artist. His list of classic singles is enormous: Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Rock And Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Roll Over Beethoven, Carol, No Particular Place To Go, You Never Can Tell and so on. Even an experienced pop professor would have to think hard to name a Chuck Berry album. Everybody assumed that he had laid down his song writing pen, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Through the years he had been writing several new songs and last year he decided it was time to record them. He did that with is last live band, including his son Charles on guitar and his daughter Ingrid on backing vocals and harmonica.
Listening to the album, the vitality of the new songs is striking. Big Boys and Wonderful Woman might as well have come out of the fifties or sixties. Jamaica Moon really comes from those days, because it is an adaptation of the classic Havana Moon. With Lady B Goode he adds after Bye Bye Johnny, Johnny B Blues and The Concerto In B. Goode again another chapter to the story of the country boy Johnny B. Goode. The performance of these simple chord rock songs might be messy, but they are unmistakable good songs.
Guest artists get a lesson in personality
Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, …) and Gary Clark Jr. are invited tot play a guitar solo (Morello on Big Boys supported by Nathaniel Ratecliff on vocals; Clark Jr. on Wonderful Woman) and they do it skillfully, but the old boss gives them a lesson in personality. With five notes and three chords he tells as much as his colleagues with twenty.
Chuck gives us blues, ballads, jazz, a waltz and pure rock and roll!
The album contains some blues songs, a ballad and a playful waltz à la My-Ding-A-Ling, titled Enchilades.
You Go To My Head is a jazz standard composed by J. Fred Coots with lyrics by Haven Gillespie. The first recordings are by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra and by Glen Gray and The Casa Loma Orchestra. Hundreds of artists have recorded the song since then; Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck among of them. It’s like Berry stripped the song stark naked and dressed it up in rock and roll style.
3/4 Time (Enchiladas) is a song written by Tony Joe White while he had Waylon Jennings in mind, but it was Ray Charles who came out with it and won Country Music Video of the Year with it. Chuck Berry changed the title for his recording and made the song his own giving it a Chuck-personality.
Touching is the duet with his daughter Ingrid in the country ballad Darlin’, in which Berry tells her he’s getting old and that ‘good times come but do not stay’. The big surprise comes at the end of the record. Dutchman is a sharp talking blues in the best tradition of Tom Waits and a track that could end up in “the best songs of 2017” list.
Writing this, I’m thinking: Chuck Berry might have made one of my favorite albums of the year. It’s got style, it’s got energy, it’s got personality AND it’s fun!