Chuck Berry, Chuck | Album Review
Late rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry leaves the world a superb gift to the world with his final album, ‘Chuck.’
The world lost a musical and cultural icon on March 18, 2017. That’s when rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry passed away at the age of 90. A sad day in the music world in a year chocked full of devastation, Berry left the world something wonderful – one final album, Chuck. Surprisingly, Chuck is a respectable final effort from the legend.
“Wonderful Woman” kicks off Chuck superbly, setting the tone for the album as a whole. What stands out about the opener is the fact that it sounds natural – like classic Chuck Berry. The classicism entails both the music – specifically the guitar timbre – and the vocals. Even so, it’s not a rewrite of his classics, but feels the way that a contemporary album by the late icon should. The lengthiest song from the album, “Wonderful Woman” is worth each and every minute of its duration.
“Big Boys” continues the momentum established by the “Wonderful Woman,” barely crossing the three-minute mark. Arguably, the energy is even more pronounced, finding the rock icon in excellent voice. Something else that makes the record successful is its tongue-n-cheek approach, characteristic of early rock. Musically, it’s vintage through and through.
The third song from Chuck is a unique interpretation of jazz standard “You Go to My Head.” This is another intriguing performance, though a shade less polished than the opening duo. Notably, the backing vocals behind Berry aren’t perfectly in sync with his performance. Nonetheless, in the modern age where vibe is everything, the vibe of “You Go to My Head” is awesome.
“3/4 Time (Enchiladas)”
Arguably the most rousing song is “3/4 Time (Enchiladas),” composed by Tony Joe White. Here, Chuck Berry sounds much younger than his age. Like the songs preceding it, “3/4 Time” thrives off its classic, organic sound. While contextually it’s anachronistic, it’s refreshing, sounding more captivating than so much of the rock music of today. The triple meter groove, fantastic music, and exuberant vocals by Berry make this a certified gem.
“3/4 Time” is a tough act to follow, but “Darlin’” accomplishes the task respectably. Berry sounds incredibly smooth here, riding the easy-going production like a champ. The piano stands out in particular here, given the abundance of bluesy licks. Pianist Robert Lohr definitely takes us to church. “Lady B. Goode” contrasts “Darlin,” opting for a more overt, gritty sound. Lohr still delivers thrilling pianistic work, but guitar receives the emphasis here. Vocally, Berry is edgier but maintains a cool, poised persona.
“She Still Loves You” lays back more than “Lady B. Goode.” Nonetheless, it’s still driving, featuring one of the sickest grooves of Chuck. Once more, the piano is on display in all its soulful, gospel-tinged glory. That guy named Chuck Berry is none too shabby either. “Jamaica Moon” separates itself from everything else, incorporating reggae. It’s not as effective as the crème de la crème – “Wonderful Woman” “Big Boys” or “3/4 Time” – but it showcases the elite creativity Berry possessed even beyond his prime. The groove is infectious.
“Dutchman” gives Chuck it’s last surefire gem. Berry doesn’t even sing, but rather speaks, telling a story over a magnificent backdrop. Rock has eschewed this style of track in modern times, but the beauty of “Dutchman” exemplifies why more rockers should revive it. In addition to Berry’s tale, the guitar, not to mention the groove. The brief “Eyes of Man” concludes Chuck in bluesy soundness.
All in all, Chuck is a surprising posthumous release by Chuck Berry. Why is it surprising? It’s a much better album than expected. Comeback albums tend to be all over the place – some capture the magic and some don’t. Furthermore, posthumous releases fall into the same category. In this case, Chuck Berry left the world quality material.