Pictures and Paintings

Charlie Rich

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Pictures and Paintings Review

by Thom Jurek

Despite a career that lasted over four decades, no record he ever made came as close to capturing the totality of Charlie Rich's musical persona as Pictures and Paintings. Ironically, it was to be his last recording; Rich died less than three years later of a blood clot in his lung in a motel in Florida. While Rich came into the public eye in the 1950s writing for Jerry Lee Lewis and with his own '60s hit "Mohair Sam," and became a superstar known as the Silver Fox in the early '70s for his Billy Sherrill-produced hits like "Behind Closed Doors," none of these records came close to capturing the complex essence of who Rich was as a songwriter, arranger, and pianist. Pictures and Paintings offers 11 slices of Rich the public had rarely, if ever, seen. Produced by Scott Billington with help from writer Peter Guralnick and Joe McEwen, Rich developed his material from informal jam sessions held over a couple of years with friends. The music ranges from jazz and blues to swing to country and gospel. Rich's own tunes, which make up the majority of the album, cut across genres and time lines. His radical reworking of "Every Time You Touch Me I Get High" (co-written with Sherrill) becomes a Latin-tinged samba worthy of being interpreted by the early Tamba 4 or Sergio Mendes. His reading of the title track, a co-write of the Doc Pomus/Dr. John collaboration, is a smoky, jazzy tune rather than a New Orleans-flavored R&B number. Michael Toles' shimmering chromatic shapes and colors on guitar, accented by Rich's tastefully placed piano fills, de-center the rhythm of the track and make it a steamy little swinging, mid-tempo ballad. Either Dean Martin or Conway Twitty could have recorded "You Don't Know Me" in their prime. Rich's own version has more soul than both of them put together, though. Rich's reading of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" is no novelty number, but a serious revisioning of the harmonic extrapolations Ellington and Barney Bigard built into its chromatic architecture. Nothing can prepare the listener for the album's final track, however. "Feel Like Going Home" is a gospel tune of such desperation and disappointment, such a plea for deliverance, that it shatters the listener's composure. This writer defies anyone to be unmoved by it -- if you aren't, you must have sawdust instead of blood in your veins. Rich begins with a simple country gospel motif, which he builds upon with each passing verse as the band enters the first into the background and then into the body of the tune, with a Hammond B3 floating above it all. By the time the choir enters, the effect is devastating and the listener feels the crack in Rich's voice and spirit, but the choir buoys him and adds the hope that makes grace possible. It goes out soaring with promise and possibility, summing up an astonishing and extremely complex journey through American music so thorough, so masterfully executed, it could have only been navigated by someone of Rich's unparalleled abilities. To record an album of diverse and difficult material is one achievement, to make that material accessible to a wide range of listeners is yet another. Rich succeeded on both counts, and given that his life ended after this session, that final track is all the more powerful, eerie, and profound. On Pictures and Paintings, Charlie Rich saved the very best, his magnum opus, for last, and we are all the richer for it. For fans, this is as essential; for the beginner, this is as fine an introduction as there is.

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