Described by some as America’s Greatest Living Poet, Charles Berry took his T Bone Walker and Muddy Waters influences and crafted a unique body of rock’n’roll and blues songs of classic, timeless quality. He rode easily over funk, Latin and Zydeco tempo’s and sang with an easy tongue in cheek bravado. Whilst on the Chess label he held his own with Muddy, Wolf, Willie Dixon, blasting tunes out on his red Gibson and working with piano genius Mr J Johnson. More than any other artist, it is Chuck who defines that glorious booming jukebox sound of the Sixties. As a quick aside, did he ever cut a poor B-side ?? Not in my book – a tradition carried on by The Stones, The Pretty Things, Kinks, The Byrds and others…..
So this album becomes his swan song, he made it through almost nine decades. The personnel includes Charles Berry Jnr on guitar and Ingrid Berry on harp and vocals. Charles Berry 111 plays guitar on a couple of cuts. It’s a real family and friends affair and somehow most fitting.
Wonderful Woman finds Chuck in robust form as he sings with abandon over puffing harp and pumping snare. Describing a beautiful female, Berry is in his element. A sly double stop-filled solo rides over the 50’s beat. I can still do this, the song says. Gary Clark Jnr is on this one.
Big Boys has a classic Berry uptempo intro and features Tom Morello on guitar. A catchy chorus ices the cake. The vocals are gloriously clear, you hear every word. Around 2:40 Morello takes the tune home. Swinging piano starts You Go To My Head, written by Haven Gillespie. It’s a lovely male /female duet over an emphatic Jimmy Reed rhythm and a laidback vibe is attained.
¾ Time, subtitled Enchiladas is live track of a jaunty waltz written none other than Tony Joe White. It’s a delight and the crowd laps it up. A good inclusion, Berry was never po-faced or infected with the just-look-at-me stance of some axe honchos.
Darlin’ is a song to a daughter and heartwarming as it should be. Bass player’s dream, for sure and the piano embellishments impress. Lady B Goode returns us to the classic jumpin’ rock’n’roll style and it still sounds totally authentic.
She Still Loves You is a slow country rocker with a kind of Fillmore incense-reeking ambience..the busy bassline makes the other instruments sound laid-back. Lovely vocal and my favourite on this set. Whoever the guitar player is, the solo is fluid and apposite. Jamaica Moon finds Chuck awaiting his lady friend, rum at the ready. Romance seems a cert, but it’s not to be. Percussion star Deborah Dobkin adds to the Caribbean vibe as the insistent beat rolls on.
Dutchman is a blues story and a half over a mean groove..the closest Chuck ever got to John Lee Hooker in acid delivery. The lyric is killer, believe me!
Eyes Of A Man closes the set on a loping blues tempo and declamatory vocal/ the message is basically ‘be true to yourself’ plus other philosophical thoughts. It is hypnotic stuff…
Thus Berry seals his recording career with great singing, ace lyrics, dignity, good company and plenty of rockin’, naggin’ guitars.
(Thanks Glenn, thanks Chuck for a lifetime of inspiration)