Chuck Berry box set shows musical maturity

Chuck Berry
Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974
Hip-O Select/Geffen/Universal
(B B0013790-02), 4 CDs
Grade: ★★★★

By Bruce Sylvester

With 71-track “Have Mercy,” Hip-O completes its trilogy of four-CD boxes commemorating rock pioneer Charles Edward Anderson Berry’s career at the legendary Chess Records. In presenting Berry’s return to Chess after a stint on Mercury, it includes his sole No. 1 single (innocently naughty singalong “My Ding-A-Ling”) and best-selling album (“The London Chuck Berry Sessions”).

By ’69, Berry and his fans were attuned to psychedelia and hippiedom. “Barefoot Sweet Little Sixteen” was in a mini-skirt. Adapting 1958’s “Johnny B. Goode” melody, “Tulane” portrayed Johnny in trouble for controlled substances; that plot continued on “Tulane”’s bluesy 45-RPM flipside, “Have Mercy Judge.”

Berry’s music matured along with his audiences. Quiet spoken-word “My Pad” is one of more than 20 worthy previously unreleased tracks. Among the pop and country covers, “South Of The Border” is both sung straightforwardly and spoofed. And he’d clearly been listening to Hank Williams.

Basically, “Johnny B. Goode” (the first of the three boxes) had most of his original classics. A few are updated in concert on “Have Mercy,” where he expands his musical vision and digs deeper into his Midwestern blues.

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