The Hi recordings of Charlie Rich are in many ways the most reckless and adventurous of his career. In 1966 and 1967, Hi, a small Memphis label that hosted acts such as Willie Mitchell (and later Al Green) and the Bill Black Combo believed, like Sun, RCA, and Mercury before them, in Rich's prodigious talent but had no idea where to put him categorically. On this set of 28 tracks there is everything from killer Memphis soul à la the David Porter/Isaac Hayes collaborations "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" and "Love Is After Me," to strutting pop-oriented country-soul such as "I'll Shed No Tears" and the downright funky "Can't Get It Right," with a burning female backing chorus. There are also versions of tracks Rich originally cut for RCA such as "Who Will the Next Fool Be" and "Hurry Up Freight Train." Most are the songs associated with Hank Williams that make up the second half of the disc. They are revelatory in that they reveal just how wide-ranging Rich's vision was. Beginning with Williams' own "My Heart Would Know," Rich takes the songs deep into his own musical soul and, like Ray Charles before him with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, makes them his own, turning them into timeless pop classics. Among Rich's recordings, these 11 songs are some of the most enduring. There is "You Win Again," where the pedal steel becomes an instrument of timbral control and coloration and the lyric becomes a shimmying doo wop-framed melody; "Hey Good Lookin'" sounds as if Rich is backed by Booker T. & the MG's and the Meters simultaneously. The cool Hammond B3 run at the beginning of "Nobody's Lonesome for Me" takes a honky tonk tune and turns it inside out, making it a rousing party anthem. As for Williams "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," Rich's version is among the most beautiful and emotionally naked ever recorded. The set closes with Leon Payne's "They'll Never Take Her Love Away From Me." As pedal steel guitar winds out the sang lines, Rich pours virtually everything he has into Payne's deeply moving lyric. This isn't merely a sad song, it's a devastating one; it's a suicide note; but the tenderness evoked by Rich makes it among the most beautifully twisted love songs ever performed. This collection is essential for Rich fans, and something to consider for any fan of timeless, restless country-soul from the 1960s.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek