Having recently emailed all our writers complaining (ever so slightly) that we’d been covering way too many established artists over recent months, I almost feel like a hypocrite here, covering a record by the oldest person, to my knowledge, to have released an album thus far in 2017. I would argue that the sad passing of Chuck Berry, aged 90, in March this year though, was a more than acceptable reason for its inclusion though, right?
Sometimes, Chuck is an absolute riot. Take ‘Big Boys‘, which feels like the pioneering Missourian has picked you up and spun you in a whirlwind above his head until you find yourself back in a sweaty bar-room brawl in the 1950s, while prudish, startled elders look on in utter contempt as this new fangled rock ‘n’ roll racket drowns out their Bing Crosby record playing on their gramophone. It’s urgent and sassy, with scant regard for modern recording technology, and as a result is utterly compelling.
Much of Berry’s swansong, admittedly, treads the same path he’d taken for the last 50 or 60 years of his life, but the thing is, he knows that journey so well that he turns it into the most colourful trip one could conceivably imagine. So even his most enduring saga, this time in the form of ‘Lady B Goode‘, is given enough of a zip and zing to keep it from ever turning stale. It’s undoubtedly the rockers though, where the man has always felt most comfortable, so it is interesting to note his Fats Domino side on the likes of ‘You Go To My Head‘ and ‘Darlin’‘, both of which effectively recall ‘Blueberry Hill‘ and could charm the most obstinate of adders from its basket.
‘3/4 Time (Enchiladas)‘ reveals the duckwalking maestro’s more playful side, though I’m not sure we really needed ‘My Ding-a-Ling‘ part two, once again complete with crowd noise, but then again I guess it’s an affectionate nod back to the music hall days of call and response numbers and as such not entirely out of place here. But perhaps most satisfying on this new collection is ‘Jamaica Moon‘, essentially a re-imagining of his own ‘Havana Moon‘ some 60 years before. Not many musicians could get away with the faux-Caribbean accentuation here, but somehow Berry manages to pull this off without sounding offensive or crass. Even better is the spoken word ‘Dutchman‘ that follows, quite wonderfully, and unexpectedly, delivered in an almost Tom Waits like drawl reminiscent of ‘What’s He Building?‘ from Mule Variations.
Throughout his long career, Chuck Berry got into many scrapes, was arrested, and accused of some despicable things that we won’t get into here. It’s testament to his legacy, however, that he is still primarily remembered for his records and his vision, which stretched way beyond what any struggling African-American family could feasibly have anticipated back in those formative years. You can only admire the fact that he still managed to go out on an album as strong as Chuck.
Chuck is released on 9th June through Decca Records.