Saturday, June 17, 2017
Album Review: "Chuck", by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry as many of you know is one of the greatest rock n' roll legends there is. In the 1950's he was one of the pioneers of the genre. Some might even argue that he was the true king rather than Elvis Presley. That said, countless folks across the world were stoked beyond imagination when they found out Berry was releasing his first album of new material since 1979. Sadly however, Chuck was to become more of a memorial rather than the big celebration it was originally intended to be due to Berry's death at the age of 90 earlier this year.
Chuck was recorded over the course of 23 years between 1991-2014. The album wasn't announced however until 2016, well after everything was recorded and done with. It was produced by Berry himself and put out on Dualtone and Decca Records. The nice part about this album is that much of his backing band was comprised of his children as well as members of his live backing band from over the years he was still touring.
Chuck is a return to form in many ways for Berry. You can hear many of those classic 50's style guitar riffs (very similar to his iconic hit Johnny B. Goode) and then some tunes with a bit more of a Latin rhythm to them. At least two or three songs on the album go into that familiar territory, but that is perfectly fine. When you put on a Chuck Berry album you expect to hear something like that. Having such tunes makes it a more complete experience.
What was a rather pleasant surprise to me however was how many tunes weren't really straight up rock n' roll, but rather straightforward slow moving blues shuffles. You can hear a lot of Berry's early blues influences in there and it makes you hear the man for what he really was and what moved him as a musician. These are tunes I found myself getting caught up and lost in the groove of, making the short amount of time they carried on feel longer (but in a good way).
One of the things that also pleasantly surprised me about Chuck is how good Berry's vocals sounded. They were surprisingly pristine and in some moments somewhat close to how he sounded in his 50's heyday. You could hear the age in his voice a lot of the time, but it didn't sound anywhere near as rundown as you would think it would be for a man his age. I really do have to give him props for being able to keep such a good sound for so long.
Normally I don't care for sequel songs, but I particularly enjoyed the way Lady B. Goode was written and how well it tied in with the story of its predecessor. It had the same upbeat rock n' roll boogie that Johnny had, which makes sense in a motif/storytelling sense. I liked the way it weaved in and out narrative-wise and also managed to be its own thing outside. You can tell Berry put some serious thought into how the song would be written.
That said, only half the album really felt like rock n' roll. The rest was mostly blues. I don't necessarily have a problem with that, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little taken aback and surprised. I kind of expected to hear songs that sounded similar to the hits all the way through. Instead I got something that was quite creative and soulful. I never took Berry for the creative exploratory type, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out he was.
For a final album, this is one hell of a great way for Chuck Berry to go out. I don't know if I'd call it a masterpiece, but it has several tunes on it that are worth going back to again and again for various reasons; whether it's just to rock out, get lost in a groove, or listen to a story being told through song. You can tell Berry picked up a few new tricks as a guitarist and song writer over the decades. I was actually rather blown away. I thought it would just be the same old Chuck Berry-type tunes, but with modern production. A bit of it was that, but much of it wasn't. That said, Chuck is a must have album for sure.
"Chuck", by Chuck Berry receives 4 out of 5 stars.
1. Wonderful Woman
2. Big Boys
3. You Go to My Head
4. 3/4 Time (Enchiladas)
6. Lady B. Goode
7. She Still Loves You
8. Jamaica Moon
10. Eyes of a Man
Buy the album on Amazon: