Charlie Rich's stretch at Smash arrived in the mid-'60s -- just after he spent a few years at RCA's Groove subsidiary and just before he signed with Epic, where he would finally find the commercial success that had eluded him. Such a description suggests Smash was merely a transitional phase for Rich, but Ace's 2011 set It Ain’t Gonna Be That Way: The Complete Smash Sessions -- the latest and best retrospective of this material -- proves that this was a clear peak for Rich, possibly his richest blend of soul, country, blues, pop, and rock & roll. Rich always mined this vein but there's a stylish swing here that distinguishes the Smash sides from everything else he recorded. Here is Charlie Rich as a snappy uptown hipster, coolly riding the slinky R&B groove of "Mohair Sam," draping himself in fuzz guitars on "Let the Party Roll On," copping a bit of Bacharach’s orchestral sweep on "It Ain’t Gonna Be That Way," slyly ripping riffs from the Sir Douglas Quintet on "Just a Little Bit of You," shrugging with bemused self-effacement on "Everything I Do Is Wrong." Only occasionally does Rich dabble with country and when he does he ratchets up the R&B: "You Can Have Her" bounces like Ray Charles and "I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water" flips Stonewall Jackson's dirge into a gospel thump. Elvis Presley, who recorded both of the preceding songs, learned several tricks from Charlie here but this is truly his own thing: there are no boundaries between styles or sounds -- it's smooth, soulful, and supple, from a master at the top of his game.
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