What does it sound like?:
Chuck Berry was always a cussed old soul. Even in the sixties, he seemed an old man, wild rather than wise, but old nonetheless. However, by then, he’d already produced dozens of diamond sharp songs, characterised by chiming guitar riffs and imaginative rhyming couplets, that set the template for Rock n Roll. He sang, irresistibly, about girls, cars and dancing. It turns out, judging by the evidence on Chuck, his final album, he continued to do so right to the end.
Chuck was recorded over a two year period in his home town. He is backed by his trusted rhythm section. The bassist, Jimmy Marsala, played with him for forty years. Keith Robinson, drums, and Robert Lohr, piano, supported him at the Blueberry Hill Club in St. Louis for over two decades. If they aren’t familiar enough, he surrounds himself with his bloodline. Charles Berry Jr. and his daughter, Ingrid, are essential to the band and Charles Berry III makes a couple of telling contributions. The Berry gene for fluid fingers has been passed down through three generations. Then, there are the guests: Gary Clark Jr., Tom Morello and Nathaniel Rateliff. The whole album is dedicated to his wife of seventy years, Themeta Suggs. Eight of the ten songs are Berry originals.
With a lineup like that, you’d expect plenty of rippling guitars and the first two tracks do not disappoint. Chuck plugs into his amp, taps his foot and cranks up the riff, a familiar sounding riff, it’s true, but if anyone is allowed to rehash a Chuck Berry riff, it’s Chuck Berry. Wonderful Woman tells the tale of a young man losing his heart. Big Boys is a lively take on a poor boy making good, each guitarist upstaging the next.
There follows the two covers. You Go To My Head is converted to an aching blues. Lohr’s piano is outstanding. 3/4 Time (Enchilades) is perfect for Chuck, featuring an Eldorado, red guitars, nice girls and wine. It captures a relaxed, conversational Chuck, engaging with the audience at Blueberry Hill. Darlin’ is about and sung with his daughter, Ingrid. He laments the passing of time and warns her that his is running out. Lady B Goode is an adoration, the sound of Johnny besotted. Chuck almost sounds drunk on She Still Loves You a song that methodically dissects a love gone wrong. He adopts a patois voice for Jamaican Moon, an update of Havana Moon. It’s most disconcerting. The Dutchman is recited like a poem, a shaggy dog story of a hard-drinking, travelling man. The finale, Eyes Of Man, is almost spiritual, rootsy, full of biblical imagery, ninety year old Chuck trying to impart all the lessons he’s learned in life.
Chuck is a fitting swansong. Sure, there is nothing as thrilling as his early hits but it’s an album oozing with his personality. He may have slowed down but you can picture him with his big grin as he tells his smutty jokes and does the duck walk. The musicians do him proud, with Lohr stealing the show. Chuck looks back with fondness, revisiting old triumphs and shares the limelight with those he loved. God bless.
What does it all *mean*?
Hold your loved ones close while you can.
Goes well with…
A warm heart.
Might suit people who like…
Loud guitars and barrelhouse piano.