Chuck Berry - Chuck

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:2017-06-16

We’ve lost a lot of greats in the past few years. Bowie and Prince to name a few. Given that Chuck was pushing the big Nine-O, his death wasn’t so much of a shock but I did take the news with a sense of real loss and sadness. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and Chuck Berry was not only a Rock & Roll legend but a hometown institution. One I marveled at as a kid. I still can’t get enough of Chuck in his heyday. There was nothing like him.

Death being the ultimate career move, a new record was imminent. But rather than an open casket funeral, this is a real live Chuck Berry record. Rather than sounding six feet under, he sounds more vital than he has in decades. Chuck marks Berry’s first release of fresh material since 1979. True, it will never live up to his legend but it’s a damn fine record. Berry’s lyrical and musical chops still as intact as his singing voice.

Don’t come here expecting anything but what this man did best. ‘Wonderful Woman’ kicks in with vitality and joy. As if the past 60 years never happened. If one could look this track in the eye, you’d see that old Berry gleam. ‘Big Boys’ follows and wisely doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel Berry invented. It’s a familiar riff, but it crackles with an energy long lacking from Berry’s post 1960’s output. If this is a museum piece, it sure can cut a rug.

‘You Go To My Head’, slows things down a bit. Berry playing the Bluesy balladeer. Something that he never got enough credit for.  Lyrically, he still has it as he croons, “You go to my head with that smile that makes my temperature rise/ It’s like a summer with a thousand July’s.”  

‘3/4 Time Enchilada’ appears to have been recorded live, Berry in an exuberant, playful mood.  In between a few raunchy jokes, the maestro waxes poetic. It may not be a Chuck Berry classic so much as a lark, but it’s a sweet snapshot of being live in the room with a legendary performer.

‘Darlin’, is Berry at his most unexpectedly tender and sentimental. A father speaking to his young daughter. Throughout fame and fortune, he confesses, “the good times come but do not stay”. The song’s Gospel flourishes, a nice touch. ‘Lady B. Goode’ follows. Billed as a sequel to ‘Johnny B. Goode’, it’s a wink at past glory but true to Berry’s story telling skills, there’s more than meets the eye. A teen queen falls in love with Johnny B. Goode, only to be left behind with child once he became a star. But to those in her hometown, she’s still known as Lady B. Goode. Here, Berry tears apart his own legacy with tongue and cheek aplomb adding in a dash of heartbreak. Classics like ‘Downbound Train’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ reveal what an unassuming, yet masterful lyricist Berry was. ‘Lady B. Goode’ is in the same tradition.

 ‘She Still Loves You’, finds Berry indulging in a little sarcasm. His delivery more akin to a bitter Country & Western tear in beer balladeer than the man who cut ‘School Days’. Another facet to the legend, going to show that Berry was far more versatile than his reputation suggests.

The one perplexing inclusion is a re-working of ‘Jamaica Moon’. Redundant though it might be, it’s a testament to Berry’s great talent. Here he takes a bit of a send up of a novelty song, imbuing it with a real sense of tragedy. It all goes to show what a fine story teller Berry was on top of being a killer guitarist. There’s always something underneath the surface with Berry. Which may explain his lasting appeal beyond his heyday. That said, ‘Dutchman’ is another tale to add to the Berry cannon. A spoken word narrative about a star fallen on hard times, with a twist that might just leave a lump in your throat.

‘Eyes of Man’ is Berry at his most slyly philosophical. Great are the works of man but none compare to the works of womankind. It may not be one of Berry’s greatest songs but as far as last words go, who can argue with the sentiment?

Berry’s farewell may lack the impact of his hello, but it isn’t a such a bad way to go. This isn’t a record that seeks to change the world, so much as give a fond handshake adieu.

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Warwick Stubbs

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Great review! It's hard to believe it could be that good, but if it is, it shows what taking a long break can do to revitalise!

  • James Gerard

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Awesome review! That album cover says it all...vintage Berry!