Chuck Berry passed away on the 18th March of this year and his final gift to the world was a new album, released on the 9th June. It had been 38 years since his previous album Rock It was released in 1979 with Berry focusing more on live work since then, so when news broke before his passing that he was working on a new album I was ecstatic.
The album begins with Wonderful Woman which sees Chuck jump straight into the thick of it, surrounded by the kind of rhythm that was present for the whole of his career. Already you get a sense that this album couldn’t have been made by anyone other than Chuck Berry. At over 5 minutes in length this song is the longest on the album which is a great way to start because Chuck Berry songs from his prime years are often criminally short. The rhythm and riffs this song features get to be enjoyed like they should because of the extended length. Big Boys is the second track with a Roll Over Beethoven-esque riff kicking things off in a superb way. This song was the first single to be released from the album three days after Chuck’s death and I can’t think of a better song on the album that really showcases his legacy. The riffs are there, the vocal performance is superb and the band behind him ooze energy. Classic Berry.
Things slow down for the third song, You Go To My Head, which features Chuck’s daughter Ingrid on co-lead vocals. It’s a beautiful touch to a gorgeous song which shows that Chuck had more in his arsenal than fast rockers. As a singer he is incredibly underrated and listening to this song you completely forget that he was 90 years old when it was recorded. Unbelievable. 3/4 Time (Enchiladas) follows, an exquisite song is every sense of the phrase. When, during the lyrics, he mentions “mean old world” you half expect him to head straight into the song of the same name of which he covered and played numerous times throughout his career. There are countless moments during the whole album when you’re reminded of other songs he recorded decades ago. The album is very much a time capsule of classic moments while at the same time remaining relevant today. All of the ten songs on the album are new, after all.
- Wonderful Woman
- Big Boys
- You Go To My Head
- 3/4 Time (Enchiladas)
- Lady B. Goode
- She Still Loves You
- Jamaica Moon
- Eyes Of Man
Darlin’ sees Ingrid return to vocals and the two singers sound like they were meant to be together forever. What a treat for us to listen to. The other thing that really stands out during this song is the piano, something which is often hugely underrated going back to the start of his career. The majority of attention often goes to Chuck’s guitar abilities but the piano is ever present, and never interfering. That’s exactly what happens in Darlin’. Chuck turns back the clock with a sequel to 1958 single Johnny B. Goode with the song Lady B. Goode. The same kind of riff opens the song and the energy in Chuck’s vocals hits a level that has been building and building since the album started. What’s even better is that Chuck’s son, Chuck Berry Jr. and his grandson Chuck Berry III play on the song as well. Three generations of the Berry family laying it down like only they can, with Chuck Snr. leading the way. It’s a joy to hear and you’d be forgiven for having this song on repeat for hours. Beautiful.
She Still Loves You follows and lays down a slower groove compared to the previous few songs. It’s a nice change of pace, again signaling his ability an exceptional singer in his own right. His guitar playing really hits the spot as well and sounds exceptional for a 90 year old. Chuck never lost it. Jamaica Moon is the next song which is in the same vein as his 1956 classic Havana Moon. That’s something that people forget about Chuck Berry, most people think he just played rock and roll. But he was a master and integrating different genres into rock and roll and Havana Moon and now Jamaica Moon show that spectacularly. Dutchman is the second to last song and is very different to any other song on the album. Instead of singing, Chuck talks throughout the song telling a story. It’s great to hear and gives you a little taste of what Chuck Berry’s music would sound like today if he hadn’t have been born when he was. It’s an interesting thought and a new dimension to his music,
The album ends the way it started, with a song that manages encapsulate everything great about Chuck Berry and his career. The way he holds the listener in the palm of his hand when he sings is magical beyond words and the tasteful guitar licks throughout add to the overall magnificence. What a track. What an album.
Overall this album is the perfect end to a legendary career. The riffs, the vocals and the showmanship are ever present and cement Chuck Berry’s life in music as one of the greatest musicians and songwriters who ever lived. It also shows how timeless his music is, with the same riffs that rocked the 50’s being just as meaningful and explosive now as they were then. RIP Chuck.