This swansong from the father of rock ’n’ roll is full of signature riffs, warm sentimentality and cheeky personality
Chuck Berry: CHUCK Dualtone/Decca Records ***
Glen Campbell: Adios Virgin EMI ****
Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister: Planetarium 4AD ****
Last year, The Rolling Stones revisited their rhythm’n’blues roots on Blue and Lonesome, their first new album in over a decade, to great excitement. But they would happily make way for the first new Chuck Berry album in 38 years. This wiry, wily operator was on the rock ’n’ roll frontline and never deviated from the revolutionary sound he helped to forge.
Sadly, Berry didn’t live to see the release of CHUCK – in March, he became the latest in an ever accelerating line of late greats – but these ten tracks are a worthy swansong, full of rogueish irreverence and raw reflection.
Evidently, Berry knew he didn’t have long to deliver his musical will and testament so, after decades of dedicated touring, he and his team, including his children Charles Berry Jr and Ingrid and grandson Charles Berry III, polished up material he had been recording over the past 25 years, some of it recreated from lost earlier demos. Consequently, CHUCK is a bit of a rag-bag of Berry signatures and signposts, none of it wanting for personality.
There is no mistaking lusty Chuck and his repertoire of twanging blues licks on the unvarnished opener Wonderful Woman – dedicated, like the whole album, to his wife Themetta “Toddy” Berry. The overgrown adolescent of My Ding-A-Long resurfaces on mischievous single Big Boys, which riffs shamelessly on the original meaning of rock’n’roll.
He makes explicit reference to his back catalogue with Lady B Goode, a sequel to Johnny B Goode, and Jamaica Moon, which simply takes Havana Moon on a bit of a Caribbean excursion.
The soused lurch of You Go To My Head and priapic rhythm’n’blues revels of Tony Joe White’s ¾ Time (Enchiladas) showcase his devilish side, but the old pioneer has words of wisdom for daughter Ingrid on the affecting piano blues Darlin’, for the object of She Still Loves You and for humanity as a whole on the characteristically low-slung Eyes of Man, all of which pack a raw immediacy and intimacy.
His fellow old-timer Glen Campbell also bows out in style with the self-explanatory Adios. Campbell retired from touring in 2012, following his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, allowing just enough time to capture his golden voice and fluent guitar playing one last time.
There is a warm sepia tint to this curated collection. He looks backwards on the autobiographical Arkansas Farmboy, a Dolly Parton-like sentimental bluegrass nostalgia trip, and muses on the present with his old pal Willie Nelson on Funny How Time Slips Away. The poignant title track is an old Jimmy Webb number previously recorded by Linda Ronstadt, and he mops up two further heartfelt numbers, Just Like Always and It Won’t Bring Her Back, by his songwriting wingman.
The bonus disc of his greatest hits confirms there is never a bad time to revisit the Campbell catalogue, from all-time classics Wichita Lineman and Galveston via his easy listening theme to True Grit to more recent moving renditions of Jackson Browne and Foo Fighters songs.
Planetarium is an ethereal collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, The National’s Bryce Dessner, composer Nico Muhly and percussionist James McAllister, commissioned some years ago by Museikgebouw Eindhoven and finally coming to fruition as a celestial 75-minute suite for strings, trombones, synthesizers and Stevens’ beseeching voice, often disguised by vocoder effects. Their spin on the music of the spheres reaches skywards and looks inwards, from the sweet strings of Neptune to the burbling synths, industrial clatter, martial rhythms and epic brass fanfare of Jupiter.
Bartók: Complete String Quartets Harmonia Mundi *****
There are several composers whose lives can be traced, and possibly better understood, through their music for string quartet. Beethoven is an obvious example; another is Béla Bartók, whose six quartets, dating from 1909 to 1939, encompass a musical journey reflective of the human one. The true joy of this survey by the Heath Quartet, taken from live recordings at the Wigmore Hall, is the pungency of performances that capture the essence of Bartók, from the desperation of youthful, unrequited love in the First Quartet, to the anguish of the last, written as war loomed. There is a freshness and immediacy running through every performance which informs the bold modernism of the Third Quartet, notably the feverish, folkish urgency of its final movement, and the surreal language of the Fifth. This is a substantial achievement by the Heath Quartet, which offers new insights into one composer’s fascinating body of work.
Skipinnish: The Seventh Wave
Skipinnish Records ****
They say the seventh wave is the one to watch, and Skipinnish are riding a big one with a seventh album bursting with energy and heart. Now a powerful pipe and accordion-led septet, augmented here by numerous guests, they combine the mandatory rocked-up jigs and reels with songs celebrating island life and culture, such as the anthemic Harvest of the Homeland or the up-tempo Heave Away. Lead singer Norrie MacIver is in fine voice, not least reprising the catchy Walking on the Waves, with which the band from Tiree hit the number one spot in the World Music Download Chart three years ago.There are distinct echoes of Runrig – whom they salute in a cover of Alba – and some genuinely moving moments, such as The Iolaire, which recounts a tragic episode with emotive sweep, tender singing from Caitlin Smith and a psalm-like coda. There’s lovely chorusing, too, in the air Crò Chinn t-Sàile.