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Chuck Berry
Berry On Top / St. Louis To Liverpool

Review By Steven Stone
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  Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs have a well-deserved reputation for producing great re-issues, but this Chuck Berry CD won't do much to improve their standing. Mobile Fidelity didn't drop the ball as much as struggle with a very slimy pigskin. Even their technical braintrust couldn't convert these sonic sow's ears into silk purses.

With 27 tracks, Berry on Top/St. Louis to Liverpool includes everything from the two Chuck Berry LPs. Berry on Top contains more of Berry's hits than any of his subsequent releases with "Carol," "Maybellene," Little Queenie," Johnny B. Goode," "Around and Around," and "Roll Over Beethoven." St. Louis to Liverpool comes in a distant second with "No Particular Place to Go," "Promised Land," and "You Never Can Tell." But along with these gems you also get clinkers like "Hey Pedro," "Merry Christmas Baby," "Fraulein," and "The Little Girl from Central." At least you don't have to suffer through "My Ding a Ling."

Berry's best songs tell a story. Conversely his worst ones are merely a bunch of semi-relevant phrases strung together. "Maybellene" is an example of a Berry masterpiece no matter how many times you hear it the narrative never gets old. "Carol" on the other hand, is a lyrical mess there's simply no story line. "Johnnie B Goode" works, even if it is basically a self-aggrandizing advertisement for Berry's guitar slinging prowess, but the lyrics of "Sweet Little Rock And Roller" are merely a poor excuse for groupie groping. Chuck Berry's music makes it difficult to separate out the pioneering guitar stylist from the perv who was busted for drilling peepholes in the bathrooms of his St. Louis nightclubs.

The audio quality on this CD goes from marginal to OK. The earliest cuts from 1955 through 1960 are mono, and some, such as "Carol" and "Johnny B. Goode," have noticeable burr and distortion on Berry's lead guitar parts. Other cuts, such as "Maybellene," are strangely mixed so the hand shaker is the most prominent instrument, overshadowing even Berry's superb guitar solo. The early stereo mixes such as 1964's "Little Marie" have the drums hard right, piano hard left and Berry's vocals and guitar stranded in a gulf in the center. This cut will sound better if you have a "mono" switch on your stereo.

Although Berry on Top/St. Louis to Liverpool isn't the sort of CD that will have you swooning over its audio quality, it does present an accurate picture of most of Chuck Berry's best work as well as a few of his duds. If the only examples of Berry's work in your CD library are covers by the Rolling Stones, you need this, warts and all.

 

 

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