sat 18/05/2024

CD: Chuck Berry - Chuck | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Chuck Berry - Chuck

CD: Chuck Berry - Chuck

Last goodbye from father of teen rock'n'roll

There has been a rush of valedictory ‘last albums’, apparently made in the knowledge that the artist in question’s life was coming to an end: Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, and now Chuck Berry, who left us on 18 March of this year.

While the first two wrestle with the demons at the threshold, and predictably offered a meditation on death, the king of the duck-walk and rock’n’roll, is in more celebratory mood, with a series of recordings made slowly, with much help from his family, over the last few years. This is a survivor’s album: “While I’m still pickin’, I’ll still play my tunes”, the old man sings.

There is no attempt here at making things new. There are plenty of his trademark guitar riffs, the energizing chords that have launched a thousand rock songs. Although there are many other contenders for the role of creator of rock’n’roll, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Elvis, Chuck Berry was without doubt the originator of a certain kind of party music, stripped down to its essentials – the chunky guitar and the rollicking piano, underpinned by minimal but always irresistibly danceable rhythm from drums and bass. But the rhythm came as much from the lead guitar, that led in every way, establishing the party groove with minimalist energy.  Chuck Berry’s music was never wild: in keeping with the aesthetic of cool that is so central to African music and art, he always did a great deal more than others with a great deal less.

That is indeed one of the reasons his style still feels modern today. And yet, because it has been ceaselessly imitated, there is a sense of déja entendu. Besides, the context has changed, and what seemed fresh and rebellious in the late 1950s and early 60s  fails to  rebel-rouse in quite same way.  On the new album, the slower, rather than the boogie-infected tracks, stand out: a soulful swamp blues version, of the lovely ballad “You Go to My Head”,  made famous by Billie Holiday , the country style “Darlin’”, and the sultry “Eyes of Men”.

There are plenty of his trademark guitar riffs, the energizing chords that have launched a thousand rock songs


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