From the first lick, you know who it is. He doesn't even have to put a last name on it. Chuck is enough. The Berry-isms come tumbling out as he launches the opener, “Wonderful Woman,” a travelogue through everything Chuck Berry has put out for the last 50 years. Sound bytes from “Roll Over Beethoven,” "Livin' In The USA,” “Nadine,” “Johnny B Goode,” and “You Never Can Tell” are stitched together with the signature Berry choogle, that unmistakable guitar riff that clangs and jangles and gets you itchin' in places that you can't scratch with nothing else.
It's a songwriting tutorial as well. Berry was always a masterful storyteller, compressing novels into three glorious minutes of things you wish you had said about women and cars. He never lost his touch. “Wearing a formfitting dress that was hard to bear/ Man she could pull a big ten in a beauty scene anywhere,” Berry observes on "Wonderful Woman,” aided by son Charles Jr. and grandson Charles III.
“Big Boys” is as good as anything Berry ever put out, a teenage anthem from a 90-year-old who could always articulate horizontal throbbing pubescent passion like nobody else. Fueled by a hard-rockin' Berry guitar chomp with an opening lick like “Oh Carol,” Berry tells of wanting to do what the big boys did, asking “where,what, and why” till he finally discovered the secret at the school dance and learned to party like the big boys do: “ The girls want to stay and the boys want to play,” he sings, “so let's rock and roll till the break of day.” Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello slithers in with some sizzling, snaky licks of his own, but Berry owns this one from start to finish.
Berry's rearrangement of the 1938 jazz standard “You Go To My Head” is in stark contrast to Billie Holiday's smooth jazzy version, Berry's a bombastic slow blues tickled underneath by Robert Lohr's piano with a Billie Holiday soundalike harmonizing with Berry's uncharacteristic crooning by Ingrid Berry.
Berry steps out of character again on a live version of Tony Joe White's “3/4 time (Enchilada),” plucking chords in a manner he calls “titillating,” choppy country twanged string pulling accompanied by a comic vocal delevery in the spirit of "My Ding- A-Ling."
“Lady B Goode” takes up where Johnny, of the B. Goode family, left off. In the sequel, Johnny got famous and left his lady behind in New Orleans with a little present, a Baby B. Goode. Berry has said he was the Johnny B. Goode, so he has to claim this one as well, even though it seems to show a rather unflattering portrait of him as a distant daddy. It rocks as hard as the original, Berry's lyrical skills keeping it from being a cheap rerun. It's packed full of wonderfully convoluted Berry-isms like “fell there a lassie in love with a lad/ till it took him to vindicate the feelin' she had.”
Berry goes back to the country again for “She Still Loves You,” represented in the liner notes as a work in progress titled “She's True To You.” It's a tricky rhythm experiment threatening to break out into a samba between bouts of cry in-your-beer piano tinkling interspersed with Berry's slightly psychedelic mushroom/country guitar.
The last two entries in Berry's last gift to are literal sermons, spoken word ruminations on unrequited love (“The Dutchman” ) and the enduring power of a woman's greatest gift (“Eyes Of Man.”) They're all the more powerful because for the first time in his career, Berry takes all the stage dressing away. A plodding rhythm accompanies his words as Berry relates the tale of a scruffy old blind man who lumbers into a barroom and offers to tell his story for a drink. Seems he once wrote a song about a poor boy from New Orleans who made the big time then met his downfall through a woman who had eyes like Cleopatra and a heart of stone. He offered her a half million to wed, promising her he would take care of he even if he were to go blind. “How could a man love woman so much” he asks the barroom patrons. “Not one of you would think/Well I did, and I still do/ Hey Dutchman, you promised me a drink.”
With “The Eyes of Man,” Berry muses, “Ozymandias”- style, on how man-made temples fall to ruin but the temple borne by women stands forever“because the beautiful unseen temple is a child's immortal soul.”
It's a fitting farewell gift, wonderful but heartbreaking because it's so good, and we waited so long, and and there'll never be any more. Chuck Berry rocks on – the rest of us will just have to do the best we can with what he left us.