Monday, 27 February 2017

"Rock And Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2017 Ace Records CD Compilation - Nick Robbins Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Brown Eyed Handsome Man..."

As I play through this cleverly compiled Ace CD compilation - I'm struck by the mastery of Chuck Berry. A fairly obvious observation you might say – but I'm talking about sideways appreciation. I've friends who have wide-ranging and eclectic tastes yet some of them cannot abide artists like say Bob Dylan or Tom Waits (I'd personally bathe their feet and offer my greying hair as a towel). Yet on hearing Bob or Tom's songs interpreted by someone else that has spotted the beauty in their melodies and words and brought those inherent things out in a new way – even those naysayers will nod in gracious acceptance of the obvious. Yep - the guy's a friggin' genius mate.

Chuck Berry is the same. Sometimes you have to have the distance of someone else's version to hear just how good the original is - and in particular - this is never truer of Chuck's fantastically evocative lyrics. The hopes – the racing pulses – the dreams – the excitement – he nails them all. And those danceable rhythms! There are reasons why so many bands - especially bar-bands and boogie merchants - choose Chuck Berry as a launch point. His songs are just such great fun - full of life - youth – in tune observations - those incredible hooky choruses – and of course the room for an budding interpreter to go off on a guitar-solo tangent or a harmonica wail. It's like his Chess stuff is the very template of all that's properly great teenage Rock 'n' Roll – the place to start playing - a first love you never forget.

This 2017 Ace Records CD brings that aural pleasure home. And while I don't agree with a few of the choices here (some out and out clunkers in my book, hence the four-star review) - "Rock And Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry" is a joyous little listen and a digital compilation I know I'm going to return to again and again - a shuffler in the car of life if ever there was one. Here are the Brown Eyed Handsome Men and their Beautiful Delilahs...

UK released 24 February 2017 (10 March 2017 in the USA) - "Rock And Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Ace CDCHD 1491 (Barcode 029667078429) is a 24-Track CD compilation of Remasters that plays out as follows (66:13 minutes):

1. Roll Over Beethoven - HELENE DIXON (1956 USA 7" single on Vik Records 45-0212, A-side)
2. Around And Around - THE SWINGING BLUES JEANS (from the November 1964 UK LP "Blue Jeans A' Swingin'" on HMV Records CLP 1802)
3. Down Bound Train - KEN COLYER'S SKIFFLE GROUP (1956 UK 7" single on Decca Jazz 45-F-J 10751, A-side)
4. Maybelline - MARTY ROBBINS (1955 USA 7" single on Columbia 4-21446, A-side)
5. Come On - IAN GOMM (March 1978 UK 7" single on Albion Records ION 1, A-side)
6. Memphis - DON COVAY (from the August 1973 UK LP "Super Dude 1" on Mercury 6338 211 - also UK 7" single on Mercury 6052 258, A-side)
7. Oh Baby Doll - THE PRETTY THINGS (from the 1966 UK LP "The Pretty Things" on Fontana TL 5239)
8. Nadine - THE BUNCH [feat members of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay with Ashley Hutchings on Lead Vocals] (from the 1972 album "Rock On" on Island ILPS 9189)
9.  Little Queenie - JERRY LEE LEWIS (1956 USA 7" single on Sun 330, A-side)
10. I'm Talking About You - (BARRY &) THE REMAINS (1965 USA 7" single on Epic 9777, A-side)
11. Brown Eyed Handsome Man - BUDDY HOLLY (1963 USA 7" single Coral 62369, A-side)
12. Johnny B. Goode - JAY and THE AMERICANS (from the 1970 US LP "Wax Museum" on United Artists UAS 6719)
13. Sweet Little Sixteen - THE HOLLIES (from the 1966 UK STEREO LP "Would You Believe?" on Parlophone PCS 7008)
14. Too Much Monkey Business - ELVIS PRESLEY (from the 1968 US LP "Singer Presents Elvis Singing "Flaming Star" And Others" on RCA Victor PRS-279)
15. Almost Grown - SYNDICATE OF SOUND (from the 1966 US Mono LP "Little Girl" on Bell Records 6001)
16. No Money Down - JOHN HAMMOND (from the 1964 US STEREO LP "Big City Blues" on Vanguard VSD 79153)
17. Beautiful Delilah - THE COUNT BISHOPS (from the 1975 "Speedball" EP on Chiswick Records SW 1)
18. Havana Moon - SANTANA featuring Booker T. Jones on Lead Vocals (from the 1983 UK LP "Havana Moon" on CBS Records 25350)
19. Back In The USA - MC5 (from the 1970 US LP "Back In The USA" on Atlantic SD 8247)
20. You Can't Catch Me - SLEEPY LaBEEF (1965 USA 7" single on Columbia 4-43452, A-side)
21. Rock And Roll Music - THE BEACH BOYS (1976 USA 7" single on Brother 1354, A)
22. You Never Can Tell - JOHN PRINE (from the 1975 US LP "Common Sense" on Atlantic SD 18127)
23. Run Rudolph Run - DWIGHT YOAKAM (from the 1997 CD "Come On Christmas" on Reprise 9 466 83-2)
24. The Promised Land - DAVE EDMUNDS (from the 1972 LP "Rockpile" on Regal Zonophone SLRZ 1026 - recorded in 1968)
Tracks 1 to 4, 7, 9, 11 and 13 are in MONO - all others STEREO

The 16-page booklet is the usual Ace Records fan-pleasing wet-dream - pictures of the rare tri-centre of Ken Colyer's Skiffle Group 45 - the Jerry Lee Lewis Sun 45 - the 60ts-cool John Hammond LP sleeve for "Big City Blues" - the Ian Gomm and Count Bishops pictures sleeves and the sheet music to Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. With two pages of pre-amble - thereafter the expert TONY ROUNCE liner notes fill in the info gaps for every entry. And the NICK ROBBINS Remasters are stunning - his expertise just gets better and better.

But I'd question some of the choices. I don't know if I need another Buddy Holly version of "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and the dreadful cod-reggae version of "Memphis" by Don Covay is best forgotten as fast as is humanly possible while the derisory Santana/Booker T cover of "Havana Moon" may have been a hit but it sucks. Steve Gibbons and his electrifying version of "Tulane" should replace the weedy Beach Boys version of "Rock And Roll Music" and maybe Linda Ronstadt's kicking stab at "Back In The USA" instead of the MC5. And where is "No Particular Place To Go" by anybody? But these are personal choices...

Mickey Baker provides the guitar work in the rockin' opener - Helene Dixon's gravel-voiced take on "Roll Over Beethoven". Her delivery is exciting enough and went virtually head-to-head with Chuck's Chess Records original (issued only a couple of weeks apart) - but her pop cover of his R&B belter was no match. The Swinging Blue Jeans take the B-side of "Johnny B. Goode" and make a good fist of "Around And Around" for their debut British album. But things start to get really interesting in the other-worldly Skiffle shuffle of "Down Bound Train" by Ken Colyer - a genius choice. Other cool period songs include a superb version of "Maybelline" by Marty Robbins and a neck-jerking chug through "You Can't Catch Me" by Rockabilly hero Sleepy LaBeef. New Wave new-kids-on-the-block Ian Gomm and The Count Bishops can hold their heads high - Gomm sounding not unlike the smug child of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe on his natty version of "Come On" - while The Count Bishops blast out a suitably manic British Pub Rock take of "Beautiful Delilah" - a highlight from their Chiswick Records debut EP "Speedball".

"Run Rudolph Run" by Dwight Yoakam and "Sweet Little Sixteen" by The Hollies feel functionary at best - while John Prine does a fun piano-rolling take of "You Never Can Tell" (vocally he's not dissimilar to Chuck). But they're trumped by a genuinely exciting Syndicate Of Sound take on the brilliant "Almost Grown" - while John Hammond's seriously cool "No Money Down" may indeed be worth the price of admission alone. Music historian and genre lover Tony Rounce is right to highlight the contribution of guitarist Jerry Reid in Presley's superb version of "Too Much Monkey Business" - a throwaway song tucked away on a RCA Victor album sponsored by Singer Sowing Machines (I kid you not). 60ts acts The Pretty Things do right by "Oh Baby Doll" even if the recording is a very Kinks lo-fi - while Barry Tashlan and The Remains flick-guitar "I'm Talking About You" with real gusto (shimmy shimmy shake babe). A nice surprise is the Fairport Convention/Fotheringay pretend band 'The Bunch' who gleefully talk-and-chorus their way through "Nadine" with Ashley Hutchings hamming up the lead vocals like Bobby Boris and The Crypt-Kickers on "Monster Mash" as the English folk-girls go 'is that you' in the background.

As I said it's not all genius - but much of "Rock And Roll Music! The Songs Of Chuck Berry" is also so damn entertaining too (I suppose you could say - how can homages to his great American songs be anything else).

"...There she is again standing over by the record machine...looking like a model in a magazine..." - Jerry Lee Lewis sings in his fab treatment of "Little Queenie" - giving it some personalised JLL Boogie over there at Sun Records. "...If it's good...I'll admit it..." - the Ferriday Fireball adds later. Amen to that brother...

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