It’s universally accepted that Chess was the most important label in the development of pop music in the second half of the 20th century and all record collectors (not just soul buffs) should have stacks of Chess stuff on their shelves. For anyone lacking in that department, this new four CD box set is absolutely essential. There are 100 tracks in the collection and everyone has real significance and meaning … some clearly, though, have more significance than others. For instance Jackie Brenston’s ‘Rocket 88′ is regarded as the first real R&R record, Muddy Waters’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ is taken as the perfect template for electric blues, while any of the several Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley tracks had monumental impact on almost all serious popular musicians who followed in their considerable, ego-driven wakes. Chess, of course, began as a blues label and there’s lots and lots of blues herein from iconic names like Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. But the astute Chess brothers were quick to diversify into other areas – notably gospel and jazz and when soul evolved, Chess was in the vanguard again. In fairness, there’s not a lot of jazz and gospel in this collection but there’s soul a plenty from artists like Billy Stewart, the Dells, the Radiants, Etta James, Laura Lee, Terry Callier, Solomon Burke, the Vibrations, Fontella Bass, Tony Clarke, the Knight Brothers and many more. My one criticism (apart from the omission of the Dells’ epic ‘Stay In My Corner’) is the notes that accompany the set. They’ve been put together by sometime Mojo writer Lois Wilson and they consist chiefly of bland facts culled from the internet padded out with lists of rock acts who’ve covered the iconic Chess catalogue. A box of this magnitude deserves better. Motown box sets get it right – passionate notes and full recording details; if that wasn’t possible why didn’t the Chess/Universal people use someone who was around in the 50s and 60s … someone who was there and really understood the passion of the music and the huge impact it had in its own day. Still, that’s a small beef. The music does its own talking… superb.