Ray Charles: Sings for Lovers

Brother Ray sings the highs and lows of love

Concord’s “For Lovers” series features catalog selections from vocalists and instrumentalists exploring the joys and heartaches of love. Singer-pianist Ray Charles is a natural fit for this series, with his soulful vocal delivery, emotional playing, sophisticated arrangements and broad appetite for material. These sixteen tracks are drawn from his post-Atlantic pop recordings, with nearly half dating back to his first few years on ABC. The rest are drawn from the late-60s through the mid-70s, and skipping over his late-70s return to Atlantic there’s a 1993 cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and a 2006 re-orchestration of his 1970s cover of the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On.”

Producer Nick Phillips mixes iconic hit singles “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Ruby,” and “Here We Go Again” with lower charting entries, the seasonal favorite “Baby, It’s Cold Outside (sung in duet with Betty Carter) and intelligently selected album tracks. It’s the latter – the lesser-known picks – that make this collection unique. Highlights include a version of Meredith Wilson’s “Till There Was You” that’s so soulful, it’s hard to match it with Paul McCartney’s sugar sweet rendition on With the Beatles, and his intimate reading of the Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay” features a terrific piano solo within Sid Feller’s restrained arrangement.

The broad range of Charles’ musicality is represented in selections from jazz player Don Redman, country artists Don Gibson, Red Steagall, and Eddy Arnold, tin-pan alley scribes Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Mitchell Parish, and George and Ira Gershwin, pop writers Leon Russell, George Harrison, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and theater and film composers Meredith Wilson, Victor Young, Ned Washington and Heinz Roemheld. The latter’s “Ruby,” which riginally appeared in the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, was recorded by Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Peterson, and brought to its greatest prominence with this yearning, hopeful-yet-wary 1961 recording. Across these selections, Charles is variously backed by orchestra and chorus, strings, horns, and piano and organ-led jazz combos.

With more of Charles’ catalog appearing on download services, you might opt to put together your own collection of his love-related songs. But unless you’re deeply familiar with his catalog you’d miss some of the selections Phillips includes here. Charles won a Grammy® for his cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” but sixteen-years later you might have forgotten how poignant it sounds in Charles experienced, 63-year-old hands, and the album track “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” shows a delicate jazz chemistry between Charles and Betty Carter that’s buried by the annual revival of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This is finely programmed set that’s a nice spin for those who want to hear a side of Ray Charles beyond the hits. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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