Yes, because that image was a false one. The real Rich was the pre-fame performer, the handsome young songwriter at Sam Phillips' Sun Records. The kid with Elvis' voice, Jerry Lee's keyboard flair and a serious musical education, who roamed from the blues everyone was ripping off to the country everyone had grown up with to the jazz nobody around Sun had ever heard of. Rich could do it all, and Phillips himself is reported to have said that Rich had the talent to go where Presley had gone before him.

Some say Rich was just too talented -- could do too many things too well to ever find a convenient marketing niche (until "Behind Closed Doors" thrust one upon him). And certainly, the Rich portrayed so eloquently by Peter Guralnick in Feel Like Going Home and Lost Highway was a man unnerved by the star-making machinery. In any case, the recordings collected here are not Rich's commercial legacy, but the legacy of his far more powerful art. On Lonely Weekends -- which makes many of its 25 Sun tracks available for the first time on CD -- Rich displays all his facets. There's the rock and roll of "Whirlwind," the gospel tones of "Big Man," the borderline novelty of "Easy Money," the barrelhouse blues of "Juice Head Baby," the jazzy piano rolls of "Midnite Blues," even the overdone stylistic missteps of "Philadelphia Baby." The hits are all here: "Lonely Weekends," "Finally Found Out," "There's Another Place I Can't Go," "There Won't Be Anymore." A few have even been un-dubbed, stripped of too many strings to cut to the musical bone beneath. And that bone, when you get there, is rock solid. (****) -- Brad Tyer

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
Long Way Home

Subtitle this one "The Girot's Family Reunion" for its profusion of guest talent, all stopping by to pay their respects to the master. Classic-rock radio listeners might be shocked by Brown's boogie-woogie treatment of Eric Clapton and Leon Russell's "Blues Power," until Clapton joins in on vocals. Russell channels Amos Milburn on piano, while Ry Cooder stirs in a little mandolin here, a little slide guitar there and Amos Garrett has the time of his life on rhythm guitar. Maria Muldaur's duet with Brown on Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" (featuring Clapton on guitar) transforms that chestnut into a timeless standard.

Long Way Home features a lot of Brown on acoustic guitar. With John D. Loudermilk singing on "Tobacco Road" and Clapton singing on the title track, Gate shows the unplugged upstarts how it's done. Brown's last CD, The Man, was a horn-section celebration, but for horn fans Long Way Home offers only "The Blues Walk." On this track, Eric Demmer and Grady Gaines transform their alto and tenor saxes into flamethrowers.

Long Way Home is chicken-fried in bacon fat. But don't stick it with a fork. Use tongs instead -- just so you won't waste a drop of its sweet juice. (****) -- Jim Sherman

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown performs Saturday, June 8, at the Juneteenth Blues Festival, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Hermann Park.

CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.

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