“We’re gonna play some Chuck Berry songs,” was the reply.
That, in essence, is what Berry’s final album, Chuck is also about: Chuck Berry songs. Although the man who created rock ‘n’ roll died in March 2017 at the age of 90, his spirit, completely undiminished by time and fluctuating fortunes, is vividly present on Chuck with the same lyrical concerns, same riffs and amazingly, nearly the same voice he had nearly 60 years ago when he released his best album, Chuck Berry Is On Top.
Although there was talk that Berry and his band been working on this record for a decade, there is nothing even remotely new here, which is a good thing. Chuck works the same songwriting furrows he’s been plowing since his days on Chess Records. The “Johnny B. Goode” riff is effectively recycled in “Big Boys.” And a slower side to his art, something on the order of “Too Much Monkey Business,” returns again on “You Go to My Head.” The moon motif from “Havana Moon,” complete with the island dialect, is addressed one more time directly in “Jamaican Moon.” His randy voice, the one he used on “Almost Grown,” and in live performances throughout his career, is back to great effect in the live recording of “¾ Time (Enchiladas).”
While a few special guests Like Gary Clark Jr. recorded parts elsewhere, which were then flown into the mix, this is first and foremost a Chuck record. Even his family, guitarists Charles Berry III (grandson) and Charles Berry Jr. (son), and vocalist Ingrid Berry make very little impression here. The man was an all-encompassing talent who can still sing about being “sixteen” (in “Darlin'”) and even takes one last trip, “down in Louisiana,” in “Lady B. Goode.”
Near the album’s end, in “The Dutchman,” he boasts one last time but not in an offensive or arrogant way, “I used to be an artist, not one that sits/and fiddle out on the curb/but in my day and time my music/was considered superb.” There’s enough on Chuck to recall those glory days. He was rock ‘n’ roll.