New Chuck Berry album released

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

NEW YORK • Rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry had a reputation of delivering what he had promised.

So when he died in March after he had signed a contract to release a new album, his family made sure that his legacy would not be tainted by the unfortunate event.

According to USA Today, his family met soon after his death and decided to carry the torch, a quest which sees the release of the 10-song album, Chuck, in the United States today.

The work has been a long time in the making. Jim Marsala, bassist in Berry's band for 41 years, said Berry laid the groundwork soon after the release of his previous album, Rock It, in 1979.

But a 1989 fire at a studio near his home in Missouri dealt a blow and Berry had to start all over again, reported the Sacramento Bee.

On Chuck, returning after three decades in which musical tastes have shifted in many ways, he stays true to his classic sound - tightly structured tunes rooted in the blues, with a touch of country and the electrifying energy that he called rock 'n' roll.

Berry signs off as forever young. His world at 90, when he died, was the same one that embraced him in the 1950s - a lifestyle of driving fast cars, partying mischievously and checking out women, reported Agence France-Presse.

The album kicks off with quintessential Berry, his verses alternating with frolicking yet brassy-toned guitar riffs on Wonderful Woman.

In the song, he remains transfixed - who knows for how many years - by a woman with "big beautiful eyes" and "long, brown wavy hair" who showed up at his concert in the second row, he recalls.

On the first single Big Boys, he remembers trying to befriend cool older schoolmates, with his enthusiastic guitar complemented by one of rock's premier guitarists, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine.

Berry recorded the album around St Louis, where he lived his whole life, with his son, grandson and other artists who accompanied him for two decades in gigs at the Blueberry Hill club.

He dedicated Chuck to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Suggs. But he also appeared to want to close some of the musical stories he started.

He revisits 1958's Johnny B. Goode - a song so famous that it represents rock 'n' roll to potential extraterrestrials if they ever chance on the recording stored in the Voyager spacecraft - with the new Lady B. Goode.

Nearly 60 years later, Berry has turned his classic song into a diptych. Lady B. Goode brings the perspective of "the little teen queen" who fell in love with someone who sounds an awfully lot like Johnny B. Goode - a humble country boy who finds fame with his guitar.

Berry, opening with a hard-driving R&B guitar riff similar to Johnny B. Goode, sings: "She followed him around where he would play his guitar/Till he got so popular they made him a star.

"Then she could only see him on a TV screen/And hoped some day that he'd come back to New Orleans."

So is Chuck worth buying?

The review in Ultimate Classic Rock puts it this way: "Chuck is part backward glance, part shameless recast and part victory lap. It doesn't face down mortality like two other final albums by recently departed artists, David Bowie's Blackstar and Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker.

"But it's not supposed to. It's a celebration of rock 'n' roll music - something Berry did better than almost anyone else."

The album is also Berry's way to sing the praises of his own family. On the country-tinged ballad Darlin', he slows down to sing with daughter Ingrid: "Darlin', your father's growing older each year/ Strands of grey are showing bolder/ Come here and lay your head upon my shoulder/My dear, the time is passing fast away."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'New Chuck Berry album released'. Print Edition | Subscribe