Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry [Timeless Treasures]

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Backed by piano-pounding sidekick Johnnie Johnson, legendary bluesman Willie Dixon, and others, guitarist Chuck Berry's mid- to late-'50s output for the Chess label helped write the book on rock & roll. As electrifying a performer as Berry was, however, his live shows never translated very well onto disc. This self-titled set from Timeless Treasures, however, is an exception. The crowd is inaudible, but the recording has the cavernous quality of a fairly large hall nonetheless. This is not the ideal environment for capturing the intricacies of the band, and the disc's imperfect mix only makes matters worse. Sparkling piano solos are often buried in the blend, while the occasional instrument protrudes noticeably. All of which is easily forgivable for anyone wanting a glimpse of a warts-and-all-style Berry show. The guitarist and his band rework a series of his biggest hits: songs mostly recorded during the years 1955-1958 when Berry was at his peak as a performer. Here, his trademark riffs and memorable opening runs are replaced by an even more direct live attack. Though the band's component parts don't always gel (note a sloppy take on "Rock and Roll Music," for example), their ability to subtly rework a song's rhythm, at the expense of a clean performance, ultimately keeps the material fresh. Nearly everything here is available on the compilation His Best, Vol. 1, the disc which replaced The Great Twenty-Eight as the essential Berry hits package. Listeners unfamiliar with the original studio versions of these songs are advised to begin there (and follow up with Vol. 2). Longtime fans familiar with the guitarist's catalog, however, should take note.

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