Various Artists | Brown Eyed Handsome Man (Undertow)

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A double dose of philanthropy, Brown Eyed Handsome Man constitutes both a tribute disc and a benefit disc; more specifically, the Undertow Records CD salutes Chuck Berry, and all proceeds from it will support local radio oasis KDHX (FM 88.1). Such virtue would matter little if any, of course, if the disc didn’t rock—but happily enough, it rocks aplenty, even as it avoids the bane of too many tribute discs, excessive reverence.

Musician Kip Loui conceived Brown Eyed Handsome Man, organizing 19 local acts to cover songs from Berry’s seminal catalog, and the CD reflects the degree to which everyone involved viewed this as a labor of love. From Fairchild’s sultry “Almost Grown” to Jay Farrar’s bluesy “Why Should We End This Way” to Magnolia Summer’s woozy “Around and Around,” the disc forms a primer to the work of some of St. Louis’s top musicians, filtered through the work of the man who defines the city’s rock pinnacle. Included are Bennie Smith and the Urban Express, Bob Reuter and Palookaville, Earl, The Gentlemen Callers, Gumbohead, The Highway Matrons, The Orbits, The Phonocaptors, The Skeletons, The Soulard Blues Band, and Tinhorn.

Otherwise, The Rockhouse Ramblers reprise “Tulane” with their customary verve, and The Trip Daddys rip into “Johnny B. Goode” as if they were gigging on the eve of Armageddon. Moreover, Fontella Bass’s vocals on the title track prove she’s lost none of her power and panache and testify why, in music reviews, the phrase the great customarily precedes her name; at the disc’s Pageant release party in late September, seeing Bass backed by The Bottle Rockets (who cover “Come On” here) verged on a sonic epiphany. Finally, Waterloo’s interpretation of “No Particular Place to Go” rolls into the headphones with the majesty of a summer squall, a reconceptualisation of that song strong enough to induce gooseflesh. Buy! This! Disc!

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