Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-08-03

2012-08-03

Chuck Berry: The Chess Box (MCA/Big Yard, 1988) Starting at age 29 in 1955, Chuck Berry recorded plenty, mostly for Chess in Chicago, a spin in the Caddy from his St. Louis home. Many of these recordings were epochal, others pretty great. But quite a few fell short. In the golden age of Top 40, his albums were afterthought product, filled out with autopilot instrumentals, threadbare covers, wan novelties, and temperate lounge blues. So Chuck Berry's natural longform is the best-of, compelling fans to buy his classics over and over. This 71-track threefer from the innocent days when box sets meant something slackens slightly on the back half of disc two by indulging Berry's blues dreams. But disc three documents the renaissance that followed his release from an 18-month bid on a trumped-up prostitution charge in late 1963. The unsatisfied "No Particular Place to Go" and the pot-dealing action thriller "Tulane" aren't iconic like "Johnny B. Goode," but their artistry, invention, and humor are unsurpassed, and "Tulane" led directly to "Have Mercy Judge," the only important blues he ever wrote. A

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