THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE Hail! Hail! Rock and roll! The legend may have saved his best for last.
Chuck Berry’s legacy as “The Father of Rock and Roll” has been secure for decades, as indelible as the guitar riffs of “Johnny B. Goode” or the image of him duckwalking across a stage.
For those who still have questions, even after all the testimonials that came with his death in March, Berry has left behind “Chuck” (Dualtone), his first new studio album since 1979’s “Rock It” to silence the doubters.
When Berry announced the album’s completion on his 90th birthday, dedicating it to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry, he added, “Now I can hang up my shoes!”
It’s an understandable thought. As final statements go, “Chuck” is a doozy — filled with the passion and inventiveness of his early work, as well as his sense of humor.
Berry even keeps up with the times, joking in his version of Tony Joe White’s “3/4 Time (Enchiladas),” “All of my life, there’s one thing I’ve been hoping to find a woman like you, honey, whose software matches this hard drive of mine.” Later, he sings about cars and guitars, making it a near-perfect capsule of all his early interests.
Berry’s guitar still drives “Lady B. Goode,” the sequel to his classic about Johnny. And he is definitely in control of the roaring first single, “Big Boys,” which features Tom Morello on guitar and Nathaniel Rateliff on booming backing vocals. Berry tells the tale of how nerdy guys can turn into legendary musicians in slightly more than 3 minutes, one more triumphant rock tale to add to his catalog.
However, Berry also sings from his older, wiser point of view. “Darlin’,” his duet with daughter Ingrid Berry, is poignant, as they tell each other “The good times come, but do not stay.”
The potent combination makes “Chuck” one of Berry’s best albums, possibly his strongest ever from start to finish.