Chuck Berry

Dualtone, 2017

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


There is no denying that when Chuck Berry passed away earlier this year at the age of 90, a huge portion of rock music's early history left with him. Despite only gaining one chart-topping song – and a throw-away number at a stage in his career well past his prime – Berry remained a seminal part of rock music's scene up until nearly the end of his life.

Chuck, his final studio release (and first studio album since 1979's Rock It), is a surprisingly good last statement from one of the few remaining elder statesmen of rock and roll. It's not a perfect effort, but it also shows that Berry was willing to do some experimenting with his music, even up until the end.

For a man who, by all rights, should have been enjoying the fruits of his labors over the course of several decades, Berry hardly sounds his age, both in his vocals and his playing ability. Tracks like “Big Boys” and “Wonderful Woman” all prove that he had lost precious little of the skills he had demonstrated over the years – even if some of the songs, such as “Lady B. Goode,” don't show him exactly plowing any new ground.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Yet it is in the exploration of different rhythms and styles that Chuck finds its greatest success. Yes, you could argue that “Jamaica Moon” is simplistic and repetitive – and you'd be right on both counts. But it's also damned enjoyable – and, let's be honest, songs from Berry's catalog over the eyars would hardly be considered to be challenging on the level of, say, Dream Theater. He simply finds a great rhythm, crafted an interesting song around it… and the rest, as they say, is history.

Likewise, Berry doesn't sing on the song “Dutchman,” but turns it into a spoken-word masterpiece with a good rhythm track behind it. These are the moments when you recognize that an artist is doing something different, and you tend to pay attention to them a little more than, say, if we had been presented with an album of “Sweet Little Sixteen” rehashes. These experiments work, and work well.

And while I can't say that “Darlin'” - an ode from an aging father to his adult child – works as well, it too is Berry taking a musical chance, and I'll commend him for that. It just isn't on the same caliber as “Dutchman” or “Jamaica Moon”.

The one misstep on Chuck is the inclusion of the live track “3/4 Time (Enchiladas)”. It fails for a number of reasons, but two quickly come to mind. First, it feels like Berry was trying to recapture the success he had with his double entendre little ditty “My Ding-A-Ling” from 1972. Second, it's a little bit creepy to hear an 80-something man singing suggestive songs like this one.

Honestly, I didn't expect to find much on Chuck that I was going to like, but Berry continued to be full of surprises, even at the end of his life. It almost makes one wonder what he could have accomplished had he released something – anything – between 1979 and 2017. Chuck is a very nice book-end, as well as a farewell, for one of rock's legendary performers.

Rating: B-

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© 2017 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Dualtone, and is used for informational purposes only.