Artist: Chuck Berry
Genre: Rock & Roll
Release Date: June 9, 2017
Length: 35 min.
Producer: Chuck Berry
Personnel: Chuck Berry (Lead Guitar, Lead Vocals), Robert Lohr (Piano), Jim Marsala (Bass), Keith Robinson (Drums), Charles Berry Jr. (Guitar), Ingrid Berry (Vocals, Harmonica), Jeremy Lutito (Drums)
Special Guests: Charles Berry III (Guitar on “Wonderful Woman” and “Lady B. Goode”), Tom Morello (Guitar on “Big Boys”), Nathaniel Rateliff (Background Vocals on “Big Boys”), Gary Clark Jr. (Guitar on “Wonderful Woman”), Debra Dobkin (Drums and Percussion on “Jamaica Moon”), The New Respects (Background Vocals on “Darlin'”)
It is cool and unexpected to see a brand new studio release – the twentieth, in fact – from the one and only Chuck Berry in 2017. I honestly would have never even thought of that as a possibility until I heard that it was going to come out.
Chuck Berry is one of the main reasons rock happened. He’s one of the biggest players in rock ‘n’ roll history, one of the most popular and influential forefathers. In musicians who defined the rock genre, you have folks like Muddy Waters, Elvis, and Chuck. Chuck Berry is also a big deal for me as a guitarist myself, because, along with Les Paul, he invented the way rock guitar is done. So it’s awesome to see a brand new album from him, and not just a compilation of previously unreleased takes and pieces from here and there.
Yet I was still a little hesitant, worried that the album might be a bit of a difficult listen. Now, since it’s Chuck Berry, I would have respected it regardless. However, I feared that, with Berry’s age, the record might not sound that good. But, man! This is a really good sounding effort from a ninety-year-old rock ‘n’ roller who lived a very hard life in many ways, and it’s pretty fantastic. He sounds just about as good as ever, and his storytelling is entertaining as ever.
Some of the guitar licks and riffs do show Chuck’s age a little, in their roughness at least. Not that smoothness has ever really been Chuck Berry’s hallmark, but he does sound a little rougher than he did in his prime. His licks are a little more brittle and not quite as quick as they once were. His lyrics, though, are, for the most part, just as clever and funny and rockin’ as they’ve ever been. And the band, the players that he got to back him up here, do a superb job creating that old-fashioned, ’50s rock band sound. They’re excellent, though not too flashy. They needed to simply create a solid foundation for Berry to stand upon, and that’s just what they did. Chuck has some stellar guest appearances, too.
The songs themselves I enjoyed, except for a couple, “Lady B. Goode” and “Jamaica Moon.” When “Jamaica Moon” started out, I liked it. It had some of that reggae style, to it, but, after a while, that sound became too repetitive and annoying to me. I didn’t hate it, and the story of the song gave me a chuckle, but I have no desire to revisit the track. “Lady B. Goode” is just a reworking of “Johnny B. Goode,” which could have been neat, but the lyrics are awkward and clumsy, and the song has nothing new to offer. It’s just a twist on “Johnny B. Goode,” except not performed as well as that classic, and with uninteresting lyrics. Other than those two, the album is made up of good choices. And the last track, “Eyes of Man,” ends the whole affair on a thoughtful note. I like the track list.
Berry does rest on his laurels slightly, but for pity’s sake, the man had certainly earned that right. And, once again, this is Chuck Berry. This isn’t Rush. We don’t expect reinvention, and no one should be mad at the lack of reinvention. There’s no need for it. Some bands need to change, and some bands need to stay the same. If you have a formula that really works due to that formula, and fans don’t get tired of it, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to it. AC/DC, The Ramones, KISS, and lots of other bands that came after Chuck Berry are like that. They’re good because they solidified a fun and entertaining formula, also influential in many ways.
That’s what Chuck Berry had, and it was amazing. It’s sad he left us, but he truly left his legacy and mark on the world, and we should be grateful for this fine record he gave us before he went away.
I’m going to give Chuck Berry’s Chuck an 83%.