Ray Charles : A Message From the People

RayCharles_MessageFromThePeopleBrother Ray takes stock of America in 1972

Originally released in 1972, A Message from the People, was one of Charles’ last albums for his own Tangerine imprint. The ten songs, arranged by Quincy Jones, Sid Feller and Mike Post, take stock of post-60s America, consolidating the progress of the civil rights movement, but not casting a blind eye to the continuing plight of a black man in America. The album opens with a rousing version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Based on a poem used to introduce Booker T. Washington at a celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in 1900, the song version was adopted by the NAACP as the Negro National Anthem, and became a favorite at black churches. The celebratory mood fades with Charles’ powerful cover of the Whisper’s “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong” and its contemplation of injustice and social invisibility.

Charles continues to alternate hope and concern as the gospel-soul “Heaven Help Us All” gives way to the questioning “There Will Be No Peace Without All Men as One.” The album’s second half finds Charles’ stretching into pop material with covers of Melanie (“What Have They Done to My Song, Ma”), Dion (“Abraham, Martin and John”), and John Denver (“Take Me Home, Country Roads”). None are revelations, though Charles mines a deep vein of soulful sorrow with Dion’s work. The album closes with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” that would eventually become one of Charles’ signature performance pieces; at the time, however, it failed to attract much attention. This is a good album, but doesn’t live up to the promise of its first three tracks. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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