The name Charlie Rich doesn’t often come up during discussions of the Blues, but maybe it should.
Though most of us know Rich from his “countrypolitan” hits of the ’70s, with strings and steel guitars filling every space in the music, he actually started out as a rockabilly singer for Sun Records’ sister label, Phillips, and he wrote a few songs for Jerry Lee Lewis. In the ’60s, he had a hit with the novelty tune, “Mohair Sam,” and after his rise to the top of the country charts in the ’70s, he disappeared without a trace, mostly due to changes in the music and a few personal problems.
Peter Guralnick featured Rich in two of his wonderful books on American Music (Feel Like Going Home, Lost Highway) and from reading those chapters, you would find that the blues was very close to Rich’s heart. He learned to play piano from a black sharecropper and it was blues and jazz that were his first loves in music, but he was gently steered away from these two genres throughout his career until 1992, when he recorded Pictures & Paintings for Sire Records.
It’s obvious from the first note he sings that this music is what Rich loves. His vocals make you feel like these songs have been a part of him for a long time and it’s obvious his talents, though utilized well enough over the years, might have been even more appreciated had he gone this route.
Rich’s voice and piano shine on 11 tracks including Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Doc Pomus and Dr. John’s title cut, and “Am I Blue?” for the jazz fans.
Blues fans will be satisfied by Rich’s “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave” and “Juice Head Baby,” but there’s really no genre that dominates these songs.
If there is a theme, it would be heartbreak, as on Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” and “Go Ahead and Cry” (penned by Rich’s wife, Margaret Ann).
One of Rich’s old tunes, “Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High)” gets a Latin reworking, and “Feel Like Going Home” is a fitting spiritual conclusion to the disc, complete with choral backing.
Impeccably produced by Rounder Records house producer Scott Billington (and featuring many Rounder musicians at the time), this is a breathtaking work that will please any music fans who missed it the first time around.
Charlie Rich died in 1995, but at least he got to make the album he always wanted before he left us.
--- Graham Clarke
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