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Charlie Rich

Behind Closed Doors – 2001 (Epic/Legacy)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

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CDs by Charlie Rich

Charlie Rich isn't much remembered these days, but remains one of the most fertile musical minds to ever spill out of the South. Never purely country, always ladling a dollop of gospel and jazz and the blues into his singularly elegant songs, he was truly an odd man out. They never knew what to do with him at Sun Records. Which is only to say that he had a sound of his own.

1973's "Doors" was a triumph - a huge commercial smash that made him a star after years of languishing in the wilderness. It's also one of the best records of his career. Fidelity is a major theme here; with two songs written by his long-steadfast wife Margaret Ann Rich. There's the simple, declamatory "We Love Each Other," and "I Take It On Home" - a spiritual cousin to "I Walk The Line." The easy carnality of the title track has rarely been rivaled. He does regret equally well; it's easy to envision a teenage Elvis Costello plumbing the depths of "You Never Really Wanted Me" via Radio One. And Gary Louris of The Jayhawks absolutely knows what he's doing when he covers "The Most Beautiful Girl" live.

What separates these large Billy Sherrill orchestrations from the neo-Wagnerian bombast of, say, Robert John "Mutt" Lange? Soul, baby, soul. Rich was one of the purest singers this world has ever known, and his phrasing here is intimate and direct. Then, as now, there were factions that questioned the authenticity of so lush a production, but nothing is wasted, and everything is delivered.