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First Play: Chuck Berry, Chuck

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Del Cowie

Chuck Berry may have died earlier this year at the age of 90, but his rock 'n' roll legacy lives on — and his final album underlines this fact.

Simply entitled Chuck, this posthumous album is emerging almost four decades after 1979's Rock It, Berry's last solo album to be released. Produced and recorded by Berry in his hometown of St. Louis, eight of the 10 new songs are written by him.

Berry's son, Chuck Berry Jr., confirms his father's creative writing never stopped, despite not releasing an album for decades.

“My dad pretty much kept his lyrics with him, and when I say with him, I mean in his bedroom,” says Berry Jr. in a CBC interview. “Because he was always writing stuff, he was a poet. He had sheets and sheets of paper. After he passed away, I went to [his] house in St. Louis and went to get some stuff and sure enough, inside his closet in a box were lyrics, no joke."

The album features modern-day luminaries who owe an obvious debt to Berry's sonic legacy. Artists like Gary Clark Jr. and Tom Morello stop by to contribute to the record, but Chuck is also a family affair.

Berry's daughter Ingrid Berry-Clay appears on "Darlin'" a sobering, mid-tempo blues groove that begins with prophetic, death-tinged lyrics like "Your father's growing older each year" and ends with Ingrid saying, "I love you" after their father-daughter duet.

Elsewhere, on "Wonderful Woman," Berry jams with his son and grandson Charles Berry III along with the aforementioned Clark Jr. for a frenetically nimble guitar workout. Berry's knack for the narrative is laid out on the finely woven conversational yarn of "Dutchman," underlining the breadth of his style.

And it was Berry's style that was seized upon by countless musicians and artists like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, so part of Chuck's mission is, understandably, to enshrine that legacy.

"Jamaica Moon" is essentially a remake of Berry's 1956 hit "Havana Moon," and both "Big Boys" — which features Morello — and "Lady B. Goode" reference the opening riff of "Johnny B. Goode," perhaps Berry's most instantly recognizable guitar work.

Hearing that instantly recognizable riff, it's a reminder of both the immediacy and enduring nature of the blueprint Berry left behind.