Consumer Guide Album
Chuck Berry: Live From Blueberry Hill [Dualtone, 2021]
This surprising album was culled from around when the man who invented teenagers was 80: the 2005-2006 run of the 209 monthly shows Berry played between 1996 and 2014 in St. Louis's sold-out 340-capacity Blueberry Hill. True, there are scads of live Chuck Berry albums. But most of them are bootlegs or close to it, and the legit likes of the 1967 Fillmore one, the 1969 Toronto one, and the 1972 London one are haphazard and raggedy-ass except for the soundtrack to the valiant 1987 Keith Richards-Taylor Hackford concert documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, with Etta James and Robert Cray right at home and Linda Ronstadt and Julian Lennon sincerely overwhelmed. But where back then he was still playing the sly bad boy, and making it work for him too, two decades later he's become something new and arresting: a puissant old man whose voice has roughened without a hint of frailty singing teen songs he devised when he was a much more puissant young man. Having never stopped loving his art whatever his personal failings, I rate this a crucial addition to what I damn well call his oeuvre. His son Charles Jr. plays creditable second guitar, his daughter Ingrid adds harmonica, and while the locals on piano and drums obviously aren't Johnny Johnson or Fred Belew, they've clearly lived this music. Sure the album reprises some obvious classics, but it also revives the campaign-shouting "Nadine" and elevates the minor "Little Queenie" and juices the payday anthem "Let It Rock" and, how about that, justifies 1973's premature "Bio": "Can't help it but I love it/Stand here, sing to you/Brings back so many memories/Many things we used to do."