1. Hit the Road Jack
2. What'd I Say (Part 1)
4. I Can`t Stop Loving You
5. Sticks and Stones
6. Drown in my Own Tears
7. Unchain My Heart
8. Georgia on my Mind
9. I`ve Got a Woman
10. You Are My Sunshine
11. Take These Chains from my Heart
12. Hide Nor Hair
13. Let`s Go Get Stoned
14. You Don't Know Me
15. Hallelujah, I Love Her So
16. Crying Time
17. A Fool For You
18. One Mint Julep
19. Here We Go Again
21. America the Beautiful
There have been plenty of reissues of Ray Charles's material over the years and here's another one: packaged smartly in the format of a book, illustrated with sepia and coloured photos. It includes most of Ray's hit recordings, although it omits some, including my very favourite Charles performance: Makin' Whoopee.
I mention this last track because it illustrates perfectly the jazz side of Ray's output. Nevertheless, he was an artist who embraced many different styles: soul, blues, r 'n' b, even country music. So jazz fans may be disappointed at this collection but it illustrates at least some aspects of Charles's genius, although it's a pity that the tracks are not arranged in chronological order.
Tracks like Busted and Hit the Road Jack are in the heavy blues mode that gave Ray some of his biggest hits. What'd I Say is also bluesy but it has a compulsive beat with hints of Latin-American rhythm. On the other hand, i Can't Stop Loving You and Crying Time exhibit Ray's romantic countrified mood, backed by cooing chorus and sweeping strings. Take These Chains from my Heart is also in country style but it is brightened by Ray's jazz piano solo. Jazz mixed with the blues is the style of One Mint Julep, an instrumental with Ray at the organ, backed by Quincy Jones's band.
Sticks and Stones was never a hit in the UK but one can understand how it reached the r 'n' b and pop charts in the US, with its blend of gospel and the blues. One of the areas where Ray was at his best was in slow sad ballads like Drown in my Own Tears and Georgia on my Mind, where he evokes all the emotion in the lyrics. Ray's passionate version of You Don't Know Me secured the song's place in our hearts.
Hallelujah, I Love Her So is the only live recording on this compilation and it shows how Charles flowered in front of an audience, which claps along and expresses its appreciation enthusiastically. You can hear Ray improvising in his vocals, changing one line to "[She] tells me, Ray Charles, everything's all right". His interpretation of the Beatles' Yesterday explains why Ray is rightly credited as one of the creators of soul music.
In Ray's heartfelt rendering of America the Beautiful, you can hear what he values (and hinting at what he hates) about his native land. This is listed as the final track but my copy had two extra recordings: Your Cheating Heart - one of Ray's most memorable performances - and I Have Nothing.
All in all, this is a good but imperfect compilation. But then you
couldn't expect one 71-minute album to be "The Ultimate Collection".
Ray Charles would need at least a four-CD package.