Charlie Rich signed to RCA once his contract with Sun expired in 1963. Sam Phillips
didn't provide much oversight at Sun, a situation Chet Atkins was determined to fix at RCA. Atkins placed Rich at RCA's revived R&B-oriented imprint and had Charlie record his specialty -- a swinging, stylish hybrid of soul, jazz, country, pop, and rock & roll. A jumping cover of Jimmy Reed
's "Big Boss Man" was released as the first single in late 1963, but it went nowhere, and neither did its breezy 1964 successor, "Nice and Easy," the lack of commercial success reflecting not the quality of the music but rather how difficult Rich was to market. Epic eventually cracked the formula in 1973, and once "The Most Beautiful Girl" turned Rich into a store, the floodgates broke, with RCA issuing decade-old recordings as new singles and having hits with them as well. This turned Rich's discography into a mess, and it only got worse over the years, with budget-line issues of the Groove/RCA sessions sitting alongside recyclings of Sun and Smash. Ace's 2018 double-disc compilation Too Many Teardrops: The Complete Groove & RCA Recordings
tidies this clutter by providing a clean, comprehensive retrospective of everything Rich recorded between 1963 and 1965. Atkins allowed Rich to play a little bit of everything -- blues, gospel, old show tunes, mainstream pop, country, blues, and R&B -- and as Too Many Teardrops
plays, it's hard not to marvel at how Rich synthesizes all these sounds with ease, creating a distinctive style of his own. His idiosyncratic flair is why his music didn't connect in the early '60s -- he's playing with modern sounds, but not following commercial conventions -- but it's also why this music sounds so good decades later. Occasionally, the material on Too Many Teardrops
sounds a little slight -- this is especially true with regard to the pop material -- but Rich's performances never are. Here, it's possible to hear Rich's signature roots synthesis come into shape in a way it never quite did at Sun, and while that makes this historically significant, the real selling point of Too Many Teardrops
is that the music is a pure pleasure, the sound of a master discovering his voice.