Of all the acts that came out of Sun Studios in the '50s and early '60s, from Howlin' Wolf to Elvis, from Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis to Carl Perkins and Bill Justis, none was more musically sophisticated and diverse in his writing, arranging, and performing than Charlie Rich. That's right, the same guy who had hits with "Behind Closed Doors," and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." Rich was equally adept at recording rockabilly, blues, R&B, jazz, country, gospel, and everything in between. This three-disc set of his years with Sun, from 1958-1962, point to that in a big way, that Rich was pretty much fully formed and wildly adventurous (often to the chagrin of Sam Phillips) when he began recording for the Memphis label. Reissued by the venerable Bear Family, this collection contains a whopping 95 cuts over three discs, and three solid sets of liners by Colin Escott, Richard Weize, and Hank Davis. Some of the players include Scotty Moore, James Wilkerson, Al Jackson, Jr., Billy Riley, and Lewis. Besides Phillips, Cowboy Jack Clement, Justis and Rich acted as producers. The material includes all the hits, most of which were regional and jukebox smashes rather than bona fide, nationwide radio successes, but that was the America's loss. In England they got it. From the originals "Lonely Weekends," "Sittin and Thinkin," the Justis written, Fats Domino inspired "Rebound," the Holmes Daylie "Juice Head Baby" and more Rich tunes than you can shake a stick at. There are the great blues of "Baby I Need You" and "Ain't It a Shame," and rockers like "Popcorn Polly," with an interesting Alvin & the Chipmunks backing vocal, "Philadelphia Baby," "Red Man," and the wild "Break Up/" Rich's piano work is astounding, his singing excellent, and his phrasing trademark. He could imitate like most performers, but Rich's writing is what kept him around Sun for such a long time. He racked up hits for other artists by the dozens, but success in the big time was to elude him until his brief moment the mid-'70s with his big country hits. (And even those albums have their quirks and double-take moments.) The sound on this collection is righteous, and it's so exhaustive it contains many alternate masters, undubbed originals, demos and alternate takes. It's not cheap, but for any serious Rich fan -- and you all should be -- this is a necessity.
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