Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chuck Berry - CHUCK

Review by Mike Kimmel

Not only did Chuck Berry finally make another record (his first in 38 years are the logistics, I believe), but he also had his first "strictly music video" released. It was for the song "Big Boys" from his last album– CHUCK – released in early June, 2017. Mr. Berry didn't live to see the video actually air anywhere, but I've been led to understand that he HAD seen the final product and heartily endorsed it.

If you've been involved in music for any period of time over the past six decades, not only is it quite likely that you've heard of my most recent visitor, but also one of his songs is likely one of the first you ever attempted. I haven't done any research into the subject, but of the two most-often first-learned rock and roll tunes, "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry must be right up there with the narrow company of Deep Purple and "Smoke on the Water" as the first learned .

What's the difference? Well, one is rock and roll and the other is much heavier. It's still rock and roll, just heavy enough to polish itself if you will.

Number one starts out with some gorgeous harmonica in the tune "Wonderful Woman". It's really a cool idea for the opening track on his first release of original material in 38 years. Here he describes a second-row romance a-brewin', but he only describes it from his point of view (and, of course, that would be the point of view of the performer) and it ends when the show ends. She leaves, and he knows he'll never see her again. A different type of lyric set from Chuck Berry; but not only is it a really good tune, he sounds very much at home doing it!

"Big Boys" is track two and also the first (and, unfortunately, last) music video we'll ever see with Chuck Berry's participation. It starts off with the oh so familiar Chuck Berry riff that every guitar player and wannabe guitar player, bassist and wannabe bassist can walk through in his/her sleep. Interesting that the second track is a sort of a "coming-of-age" tune by a man who had been in the business for six decades!

"You Go to My Head" is one of the surprising tunes on the album in that it seems designed for a high class lounge singer. You know the type I'm talking about, I'm sure. A polished-up baby grand being played by a suit and tie clad sophisticated looking gentleman.

Seated (perhaps "lounging" would be a better word) is an attractive female with an evening gown of sorts. Lots of glitter is a prerequisite. She's smoking a cigarette using one of those eight-inch long cigarette holders. In my fantasy, er, I mean vision, the singer is Michele Pfeiffer, though it could be more than one host.

The drums would be a simple set. In fact, the drummer may have only three drums and perhaps one or two cymbals. The bass is upright, and the other guitars know their place (s) and occupy them without fail. That leaves our host (or hosts) for the next hours front and center.

Speaking of the drums…Well, speaking of the rhythm section in general, that is comprised by Jimmy Marsala (bass for Chuck Berry for the last 40 years) as well as Robert Lohr and Keith Robinson (piano and drums, respectively) who have been part of Mr. Berry's backing back for over two decades of shows at St. Louis's Blueberry Hill.

Son Charles Berry Jr. plays guitar in his father's band, and his daughter Ingrid on harmonica rounds out the six-piece.

"3-4 Time (Enchiladas)" is a good track with some of the humor Berry has been known for over the years. Songs like "My Ding-A-Ling" and others show he can hold his own with a guitar, a vocal, a lyric, or just a joke.

This one is a bit bittersweet, though. One of the lines – speaking of life – is "One thing's for certain; ain't none of us getting out of here alive". Then he mentions that sometimes he stays up all night writing songs. "I know it ain't good for me. I hope it don't end too soon".

"Darlin'" spends its time again singing of the fleeting nature of the good times, thinking of how quickly his daughter changed from sweet sixteen. I certainly don't want to seem as if I'm trying to paint your opinions of the songs from the album CHUCK with a sad, blue brush. I'm not, and I sincerely hope you see that.

What Chuck Berry did all of his life was to sing about what was happening to and around him at that time of his life. The man was 90 years old and had been a major part of the music industry for around 60 of those 90 years.

Number six is "Lady B. Goode".

"They want to do a movie 'bout my livelihood and I want you to play the part of Lady B. Goode".

Need I say more?

Following the Lady is track seven; "She Still Loves You". I'm going to have to listen a few more times to this one. No, not because I don't know if I like it or not. I REALLY like this one (as well as the vast majority of the rest of the album). I just can't tell if someone is telling someone that "…she still loves Chuck…" or if someone is telling Chuck that she still loves some other guy.

Listen to it as many times as it takes to figure it out. You won't get tired of it, I promise. I got the CD June 10th and have been listening to it as a major part of my regular playlist since then. I've had an interruption or two. Vertebral fusions will do that to you, but I still can't figure out which direction this one is flying.

Number eight rolls up on the Chuck playlist, and now I've got to deal with an enigma. The song title is "Jamaica Moon". The issue with which I'm dealing feels almost improper. I mean, normally I try to exercise a kinder, gentler pen while attempting to rate or to render an opinion of a piece of art that someone has created.

Years ago I read a book of poetry by Leonard Nimoy. I wish I could find that book again. Over all, it was very good. There was one piece in particular that has stuck with me over the years. To briefly paraphrase Nimoy's work, he says something to the effect of "…be gentle with him, people. He is an artist. He is showing you his heart."

Having said that and still giving much credit to Chuck Berry (and much credit is truly due the man), "Jamaica Moon" is the only song on the CD that I don't particularly care for. It's not that the tune isn't done well, because it is!

The man is waiting for his lady to arrive as regularly scheduled by ship, and the ship is late. While waiting for her, the time gets later and later and he starts drinking the rum he'd gotten to share with his date.

Ah, but as luck would have it, the rum was apparently very good and pretty effective, because the next thing the guy in the song hears is not the voice of his lovely date, but rather the sound of the ship's horn waking him up as the ship upon which she was traveling was leaving him alone and hung over at the port.

"Dutchman" is next to last on the track list. It's a story of one of those comfortable, casual bars everyone knows about because every town has one. All those bars are filled with regulars who never seem to run out of things to talk about, and it's a rare instance when someone none of the regulars know walks in.

That's how things start off here. Then a great tall man none recognized entered. The bartender offered him a drink, but there was apparently a red head regular who didn't think much of the new stranger.

"Sic him, Fido! Show him the street!"

The dog obediently jumped up and trotted toward the stranger, but when he reached the man, Fido just licked the man's hand and then lay down at the stranger's feet.

The stranger then regaled those in attendance with the story of a young man who learned to play guitar well enough that he could keep his family in "…shrimp and beans and rice…"

You may have guessed that the boy in the story was born in Louisiana, near New Orleans. In fact, it was back up in the hills north of New Orleans among the evergreens. The stranger finished his story and then told The Dutchman (the bartender) he was ready for that drink he'd been promised.

"The Dutchman" may be my favorite track from the CD. It's got tough competition from "Big Boys" and a couple of the other tracks that are awfully darned good tunes.

Mr. Berry had one more trick left in his magic bag, however, and when you listen to the final track of Chuck Berry's final album of original music, you realize that you had been entertained for thirty two minutes and twenty nine seconds.

In the last two minutes and twenty six seconds of the album – the duration of the song "Eyes of Man" – you will be given a lifetime of experience and education. You'll have to just listen to the tune; it's that good. I'm not going to assume I can do it justice with any description I might develop. I'll give you one line from the song – hopefully it'll pique your interest and you'll look for more on your own.

I'll end with that line, though. Chuck Berry's last release of original material is aptly entitled CHUCK. Seems it might have been an attempt at a musical autobiography in just a bit more than a half hour's time. The only way you could listen and NOT get the message, well, ya must be playin' with your own ding-a-ling! Here's the line I mentioned/promised earlier. The line that is a part of the gospel according to Chuck:

"Those who do not know and do not know that they do not know are foolish. Avoid them."

-Mike Kimmel

No comments: