Musicians play music, and when they play, they don't begin something so much as they pick something back up that was there all along, and music expands like a delta this way, an unbreakable loop that doesn't begin or end but just rolls onward like a wave. And rock & roll as an American musical form is very much like a delta, collecting elements from jazz, blues, country, gospel, R&B, show tunes, and whatever else was floating around into a high-charged, rambunctious music that defined and drove pop culture across the backwaters of the 20th century and into the 21st. So where is the start of all this? Where is either the chicken or the egg that begat rock & roll? It's a bit like deciding which drop of water really started the river flowing to the sea. This three-disc, 82-track collection tries to find that drop of water and trace it forward, but it's an impossible task -- the river flows all at once everywhere. The first disc explores songs from the 1920s, '30s, and '40s that feature rocking and/or rolling in the lyrics, while the second charts a little more of rock & roll's linear expansion into the amplified and electric modern world it would come to define and provide a pulsing soundtrack for, and if the chicken or the egg question of where rock & roll began isn't exactly answered here, this set makes for a fascinating tour through some wonderfully cool and classic stuff like Amos Milburn's rollicking "Chicken Shack Boogie," Tampa Red's desperately frantic "It's Tight Like That" (from 1927), and Les Paul and Mary Ford's timelessly amazing "How High the Moon," the first single in the modern world to suggest the recording studio itself was a player in all this. The set ends with Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," as close to a template for the perfect rock & roll single as one is likely to find. So, what came first, the rock & roll chicken or the rock & roll egg? No matter. The chicken crossed the road, and that's when rock & roll really started. The rest is discography. ~ Steve Leggett
Uncut (magazine) (p.93) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Trixie Smith, Charley Patton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bill Haley, Fats Domino and, yes, Elvis all contribute to this fascinating narrative."