Chuck Berry, "CHUCK" (Dualtone)
Nearly three months after Chuck Berry left the stage, here's his entertaining encore.
"CHUCK" might even be Berry's best album. While his hit singles in the 1950s helped lay the foundation for rock 'n' roll, LPs were then an afterthought, and it has been nearly 40 years since he released one. But "CHUCK" was assembled with plenty of care — Berry began working on the material in the 1980s, and wrapped up the project shortly before he died in March at age 90.
"CHUCK" doesn't traffic in nostalgia. Yes, his patented guitar intro with the three-note pickup kicks off two tunes, following the formula of Berry classics. But he ventures far beyond that formula with slow blues ("You Go to My Head" and "She Still Loves You"), swampy story-song R&B ("Dutchman") and a country ballad that serves as his "My Way" ("Darlin''').
All of which leaves room for an occasional nod to the past. "Lady B. Goode" is prime Chuck, a sequel to his best-known hit. On "Jamaica Moon," Berry rewrites his 1956 single "Havana Moon," the setting changed because he always blamed anti-Castro sentiment for the song's so-so success. His island patois is pitch perfect, and throughout his distinctive vocals add to the set's charm. He sounds wise, not wizened.
It wouldn't be Berry without plenty of solos. "Lady B. Goode" features guitar work from three generations of the family — Chuck, Charles Jr. and Charles III. Gary Clark Jr. and Tom Morello, Berry descendants in another way, are among the guest performers.
Historian Douglas Brinkley contributes enthusiastic liner notes, but Berry gets the last word. The final cut, "Eyes of Man," is an extraordinary dust-to-dust Biblical ballad — real roots music, and a fitting farewell from the hereafter.