Chuck Berry: Chuck
by Jeff Tamarkin on July 14, 2017
“So while I’m still kicking, I’m gonna keep picking my tune/ I love what I’m doing, I hope it don’t end too soon,” Chuck Berry sings in the improbably titled “3/4 Time (Enchilada),” while on “Darlin’,” he muses, “There has been many sundowns that I’ve seen come by/ Since you were just sweet 16 and I/ I have played these same songs of yesterday, oh my/ How the time has passed away.” The two songs are among the 10 that he cut for this—his first album in nearly four decades and last ever. Berry died on March 18, shortly after the announcement of the collection’s impending release, but before he had a chance to revel in the delight that it will undoubtedly bring to the many who’d wondered for so long if he’d ever make new music. There’s a lot of reflection like that on this set—from the opening track, “Wonderful Woman,” an unabashedly romantic tribute to Berry’s wife of 68 years, to “Lady B. Goode,” a sequel that resolves the tale of the hopeful boy with the guitar—but it’s never melancholy. Even when the much older Berry refers to his earlier work compositionally (you’ll recognize guitar riffs and lyrical passages—“Jamaica Moon” is little more than a rewritten “Havana Moon”), it’s a joyous, celebratory recording throughout. Berry’s acuity and wit are very much in place: The chugging blues “Eyes of Man” is imbued with the wisdom of an elder (“Those who do not know/ And know that they do not know/ Are children/ Adopt them”) but it’s on songs like “Big Boys,” with its “Johnny B. Goode”-appropriated lead riff—the song features Berry’s latter-day backing band and guests Tom Morello and Nathaniel Rateliff—that the timeless spirit of Chuck Berry resurfaces in its most basic form. “The girls wanna stay and the boys wanna play/So let’s rock and roll ‘til the break of day,” he sings, his guitar never letting him down. It’s some of the best advice you’ll ever get.
Authors: Jeff Tamarkin
Artist: Chuck Berry