Editors' pick

Chuck Brown and the Lissen Band

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Editorial Review

Richard Harrington reviewed "The Best of Chuck Brown," a 2005 career retrospective, for The Washington Post:

How appropriate that the live disc in the two-CD set "The Best of Chuck Brown" kicks off with one D.C. legend's take on a classic work by another: Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing") gets transformed into "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Don't Got That Go Go Swing") though a propulsive arrangement that reflects both its jazz origins and go-go repurposing and a mutual, decades-spanning desire to get people dancing. It's part of a medley taken from 1986's "Go Go Swing Live" album that includes Brown's take on Lionel Hampton's "Midnight Sun," James Moody's frisky "Moody's Mood for Love" and, in a true non sequitur payoff, a jacked-up "Woody Woodpecker" theme. Also on the live tip: several longtime concert favorites (T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" and the calypso classic "Run Joe"), a Barry White-ish "Playing Your Game, Baby" from 2001 and the previously unreleased, gospel-inspired "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus," further proof of the malleability of go-go and stylistic range of Chuck Brown. Most appeared on Brown's 1998 "Greatest Hits," but are here offered in remastered form.

That's also true of four of the eight tunes on the first disc, where bonus tracks include a so-so reworking of R. Kelly and Jay-Z's "Fiesta" and a treat for the Godfather of Go-Go's fans in two long out-of-print tracks. "We the People" is the title track of Brown's 1971 pre-go-go debut album, an energized workout more reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield-style message funk popular at the time; it features earnest lyrics, horn stabs, stuttering flutes, Brown's wah-wah guitar effects and an alternate instrumental version desperately seeking an action film score. The other rarity (from the 1974 album "Salt of the Earth") is the frenetic "Blow Your Whistle," though we don't get that disc's "Ashley's Roachclip," whose classic drum break became much-sampled in hip-hop.

Of course, Brown's two most enduring hits are here as well. "Bustin' Loose," a No. 1 R&B hit in 1978, continues to be irresistible as fun and go-go funk, and not just to Nelly, who incorporated it into "Hot in Herre." It's now the seventh-inning stretch song for the Washington Nationals and is featured in the soundtrack (and trailers) for the upcoming remake of "The Honeymooners," starring Cedric the Entertainer and local actor Mike Epps (you can also get it for a ring tone). And the good-natured but perpetual plea "We Need Some Money" appears on the new soundtrack to the Discovery Kids show "Darcy's Wild Life." Three decades on, Chuck can still wind 'em up across generations.