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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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RAY CHARLES

Original Album Series

Rhino 8122 79837 9

 

 

The Great Ray Charles
1. The Ray
2. My Melancholy Baby
3. Black Coffee
4. There's No You
5. Doodlin'
6. Sweet Sixteen Bars
7. I Surrender Dear
8. Undecided

Ray Charles at Newport
1. The Right Time
2. ln a Little Spanish Town
3. I Got a Woman
4. Blues Waltz
5. Hot Rod
6. Talkin' 'bout You
7. Sherry
8. A Fool for You

The Genius of Ray Charles
1. Let the Good Times Roll
2. It Had to be You
3. Alexander's Ragtime Band
4. Two Years of Torture
5. When Your Lover Has Gone
6. Deed I Do
7. Just for a Thrill
8. You Won't Let Me Go
9. Tell Me You'll Wait for Me
10. Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'
11. Am I Blue?
12. Come Rain or Come Shine

The Genius Sings the Blues
1. Early in the Morning
2. Hard Times (No One Knows Better than I)
3. The Midnight Hour
4. The Right Time
5. Feelin' Sad
6. Ray's Blues
7. I'm Movin' On
8. I Believe to My Soul
9. Nobody Cares
10. Mr. Charles' Blues
11. Some Day Baby
12. I Wonder Who

The Genius After Hours
1. The Genius After Hours
2. Ain't Misbehavin'
3. Dawn Ray
4. Joy Ride
5. Hornful Soul
6. The Man I Love
7. Charlesville
8. Music, Music, Music

 

This generous reissue package consists of five albums which Ray Charles made for the Atlantic Records label and which were recorded before Ray moved to ABC Records in 1959, although the last two were not issued until after that date. There is only a date on the Newport album but, as far as I can ascertain, the five original LPs were released respectively in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1961. Deciphering the sleeve information is not easy, since the original LP sleeves have been reproduced in tiny type which is virtually unreadable (even with a magnifying glass!). Hence I have not listed the personnel details for these reissues.

Ray Charles had already established a reputation with such hits as It Should Have Been Me, Drown in my own Tears and What'd I Say, but it was before he went on to even greater success with such songs as Georgia on my Mind, Hit the Road Jack, You Don't Know Me and Busted. Yet you can already hear the way he mixed the genres of gospel music, the blues (or rhythm 'n' blues) and jazz to become one of the pioneers of soul. In fact the Atlantic label became famous for its stable of soul artists, including the Drifters and the Coasters. And Ray Charles's importance as an innovator was underlined by the fact that one of the first albums by one of Ray's most important soul successors - Stevie Wonder - was entitled Tribute to Uncle Ray.

Many people regard Ray Charles as primarily a singer but the first of these albums (The Great Ray Charles) contains no vocals, instead displaying his talents as a pianist - and a jazz pianist at that. Quincy Jones had a hand in several of the arrangements, and Ray is accompanied by a small jazzy group, in which the most prominent soloist is Ray's long-time associate, saxist David "Fathead" Newman. Both Charles' and Newman's playing is imbued with the blues, even when playing such jazz standards as My Melancholy Baby or Undecided.

The track listed as Black Coffee is actually Ain't Misbehavin' (compare the fifth album), with the sax sounding almost like Coleman Hawkins in Body and Soul mood and Ray's piano solo showing the influence of Nat "King" Cole. Horace Silver's Doodlin' emphasises the jazz aspect and, indeed, there is a strong resemblance between Silver's "soul jazz" and Charles' jazzy soul. Joseph Bridgewater supplies a nice trumpet solo. Ray's own composition Sweet Sixteen Bars stresses the blues and gospel connections and contains some fine piano from Ray. In I Surrender Dear, Ray states the first part of the theme on celeste before returning to the piano, where his solo has hints of Erroll Garner.

Ray Charles at Newport was recorded at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, where Ray won over the crowd with a set angled more towards rhythm 'n' blues than jazz. The band sounds heavier than on the previous disc, and Ray's vocals are backed on some tracks by the Raelets. The Right Time and Talkin' 'bout You are gospelly, while In a Little Spanish Town has an attractively humorous Latin feel. Ray sings his hit I Got a Woman in R 'n' B mode. Ray wrote Blues Waltz, which is a rather heavy-footed jazz waltz. He also composed the up-tempo Hot Rod, which proves that Ray and his band were adept at bebop. It includes stratospheric trumpet and Ray himself soloing on alto sax. The last two tracks revert to the blues, which certainly arouses the audience.

The Genius of Ray Charles returns us to the studio but the backing band is even bigger and rather more overbearing. The arrangements are by such experienced musicians as Quincy Jones and Ernie Wilkins but there are too many thick harmonies and block section work. Ray's vocals nevertheless emerge passionately. What strikes me especially throughout this album is the freedom with which Ray sings. He takes the notes for a ride with more scope than the melismata of an opera singer. It is a pity that his vocals are sometimes overborne by the heavy backing, although Two Years of Torture has the benefit of a solo from tenorist Paul Gonsalves. The last six tracks on this LP were arranged by Ralph Burns and accompany Charles with a string orchestra and a cooing choir, which tends to dilute the blues-jazz elements.

The Genius Sings the Blues is my least favourite of the five albums, because it becomes samey to hear a dozen songs in which Ray laments the fact that his woman has left him - or he has left his woman. The Right Time is particularly tiresome, with the backing singers repeating "night and day" endlessly, although a Marion Williams-type vocalist adds some gospel fervour to the song.

The final album - The Genius After Hours - is better because it leaves Ray Charles free to exhibit his pianistic skills without excessive accompaniment (and without any vocals). Several tracks have Ray backed simply by bass and drums. Ain't Misbehavin' is correctly titled this time round, and Joy Ride is another beboppish excursion. Hornful Soul benefits from a neat but modest arrangement, with modernish piano from Ray. His piano feature on The Man I Love proves that he is a sensitive (and sometimes unorthodox) interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Charlesville is a jazzy blues (with hints of Count Basie) and the album ends with Music, Music, Music, suggesting Ray's eclectic approach to music which would eventually see him performing country songs and other unexpected repertoire.

As these tracks have often been issued before, enthusiasts may already possess them, but this compilation would make a useful introduction to Ray's work for the Atlantic label.

Tony Augarde



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