Fi­nal notes from Berry, Campbell

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MIKAEL WOOD POP MU­SIC CRITIC

How should a leg­end be re­mem­bered? And whose de­ci­sion should that be?

These are a cou­ple of the com­pli­cated ques­tions raised by new al­bums out last week from Chuck Berry and Glen Campbell, two im­por­tant mu­si­cal fig­ures with long legacies to pro­tect.

“Chuck,” the first stu­dio record in nearly four decades by one of the ar­chi­tects of rock ’n’ roll, fol­lows Berry’s death in March at age 90, while Campbell’s “Adiós” comes as the 81-year-old pop-coun­try star is in the lat­ter stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Both al­bums are be­ing pre­sented as fi­nal state­ments, yet each has its own ideas about what that means.

By most ac­counts, “Chuck”

wasn’t de­signed as a post­hu­mous re­lease. When Berry an­nounced in the fall that he’d com­pleted the record — a com­i­cally be­lated fol­low-up to 1979’s “Rock It” — the singer’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives promised to re­veal fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about “other Berry-re­lated events.” Such lan­guage sug­gested he might sup­port the al­bum by per­form­ing some­where other than Blueberry Hill, the club in his na­tive St. Louis where he held down a reg­u­lar gig for years.

If that’s what he was plan­ning, it was to the al­bum’s ben­e­fit. More than an at­tempt to sum up his mon­u­men­tal ca­reer — be­gin­ning with the foun­da­tional late’50s sin­gles, in­clud­ing “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode,” that in­spired the Bea­tles and the Rolling Stones — “Chuck” feels like some­thing Berry banged out in a week­end to get peo­ple talk­ing about him again.

The songs are full of fa­mil­iar riffs and phrases; the play­ing, by a band fea­tur­ing his son Charles Berry Jr. on gui­tar and his daugh­ter In­grid on har­mon­ica, is loose and scrappy, as in the rum­bling opener, “Won­der­ful Wo­man,” about Berry’s ad­mi­ra­tion for a fe­male fan tak­ing in a show of his with “them great big beau­ti­ful eyes.”

Yes, there are ac­knowl­edg­ments of the singer’s vaunted po­si­tion — namely, “Lady B. Goode,” a kind of se­quel to his sig­na­ture hit sung from the per­spec­tive of Johnny’s “lit­tle teen queen” from New Or­leans. And in­her­i­tors such as Gary Clark Jr. and Tom Morello show up to pay their re­spects.

But you can hardly hear those guys, which is part of what gives “Chuck” its lowkey charm. Even when he starts flip­ping through the Great Amer­i­can Song­book with a shuf­fling take on “You Go to My Head,” Berry doesn’t make a big deal out of it the way many re­spect-hun­gry vet­er­ans would. And that ac­tu­ally makes the al­bum a fit­ting cap­stone for an artist who rarely ap­peared to be work­ing as hard as he was.

“Adiós” is a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal, as in­deed Campbell in his hey­day was from Berry. Billed as a col­lec­tion of beloved tunes he never got around to record­ing in the late ’60 and early ’70s — when songs like “Gen­tle on My Mind” and “Rhine­stone Cow­boy” were help­ing to take coun­try mu­sic into the pop main­stream — the al­bum is the lat­est in a se­ries of ex­plicit farewell ges­tures that be­gan with 2011’s “Ghost on the Can­vas.”

That record, re­leased shortly af­ter Campbell an­nounced he had Alzheimer’s, was in­tended to be his last. But a tour went bet­ter than ex­pected, which led to “See You There,” a 2013 set with new record­ings of Campbell’s old hits, as well as an ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” chart­ing the singer’s slow men­tal de­cline in bru­tal de­tail. (“I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” an Os­car-nom­i­nated orig­i­nal song from the movie, is ei­ther a grotes­querie or an act of brav­ery.)

Now there’s “Adiós,” which as the ti­tle sug­gests is con­structed around the im­mov­able fact of Campbell’s loom­ing mor­tal­ity. Among the se­lec­tions are Wil­lie Nel­son’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Roger Miller’s “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me)” and the ti­tle track by Campbell’s go-to song­writer, Jimmy Webb.

Like Berry on “Chuck,” the singer is ac­com­pa­nied by play­ers who in­clude some of his chil­dren. And the al­bum has celebrity cameos from Nel­son and Vince Gill.

Here, though, those friends are fea­tured more promi­nently than those on Berry’s al­bum, and their pres­ence (along with the gen­er­ally slug­gish tem­pos) has the ef­fect of mak­ing Campbell seem frail by com­par­i­son — frailer than he used to be and frailer than Berry was at the end of his life.

Por­tray­ing the weak­ness brought on by age is a wor­thy artis­tic ap­proach, of course, one Johnny Cash fa­mously took for the hand­ful of al­bums he made with pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin in the years be­fore Cash died in 2003. But the Man in Black was draw­ing out themes he’d han­dled more lightly for decades; the idea of be­ing beat up was in keep­ing with Cash’s over­all artis­tic project, whereas it’s hard to find the con­nec­tion be­tween “Adiós” and the even-keeled pol­ish of Campbell’s best-known work.

More to the point, it’s not clear that’s a con­nec­tion Campbell him­self was look­ing to demon­strate. Any­one who’s seen “I’ll Be Me” is likely to have reser­va­tions about how in­volved the singer was in the con­cep­tion of this al­bum, which makes “Adiós” feel pro­foundly dif­fer­ent from David Bowie’s “Black­star” or Leonard Co­hen’s “You Want It Darker,” to name two re­cent records by artists who knew they weren’t long for this world.

To look back at those al­bums now, af­ter their mak­ers have passed, is to marvel at the cre­ative vi­sion each man was ex­er­cis­ing right up un­til the end. On the sad day that Campbell dies, few will likely cue up “Adiós” to say good­bye.

mikael.wood@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mikael­wood

Matt Sayles As­so­ci­ated Press

GLEN CAMPBELL re­leased farewell al­bum “Adiós” on the same day as Chuck Berry’s fi­nal record came out.

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