Ray Charles long ago graduated from a hit-seeking artist to an omnipresent musical god. His iconic singles, innovative albums and sizzling live performances are so monumental as to obscure the time before they existed. Itâ€™s all but impossible to recall the excitement of a new Ray Charles release climbing up the charts to popular acclaim and immortality. But Charlesâ€™ genius was both artistic and commercial, and his growth and triumphs as a musician were paralleled by success on the charts. Concordâ€™s 5-disc set gathers the mono A- and B-sides of all 53 singles that Charles released on the ABC label, starting with 1960â€™s â€œMy Baby (I Love Her Yes I Do)â€ and concluding with 1973â€™s â€œI Can Make It Thru the Days (But Oh Those Lonely Nights).â€ Along the route the set stops at eleven chart-topping hits, numerous lower-charting A-sides and a wealth of terrific Bâ€™s. Thirty of these tracks are making their first appearance on CD, and twenty-one their digital debut.
By the time Charles joined ABC-Paramount, heâ€™d already begun to translate his success on the R&B charts into broader crossover acclaim with the Atlantic singles â€œWhatâ€™d I Sayâ€ and â€œIâ€™m Movinâ€™ On.â€ His recordings for ABC included both indelible albums (e.g., Genius + Soul = Jazz and Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music), and an incredible string of charting singles that included â€œGeorgia on My Mindâ€ (his first Pop #1), â€œHit the Road Jack,â€ â€œI Canâ€™t Stop Loving You,â€ â€œYou Donâ€™t Know Me,â€ â€œBustedâ€ and â€œCrying Time.â€ Charles repeatedly showed himself to be a master of blues, soul, jazz, gospel, pop and his own brand of country, and a musician (both as a pianist and vocalist) whose brilliance was amplified just as fully by a small combo as it was by an orchestra.
Charles had first expanded his musical boundaries with Atlantic on 1959â€™s The Genius of Ray Charles, augmenting his R&B band with additional players and strings; ABC capitalized on this by providing the opportunity to record with big bands and orchestras. The through line that links the two eras is the soul Charles poured into each vocal, the personal experience he wrote into his lyrics, and the imagination with which he created definitive interpretations of othersâ€™ songs. Charlesâ€™ piano playing â€“ particularly on the electric â€“ was as iconic as his voice, and as a bandleader he surrounded himself with exceptional instrumentalists, including tenor saxophonist David â€œFatheadâ€ Newman, who developed their own notoriety and followings.
It wasnâ€™t until Charlesâ€™ third single for ABC, 1960â€™s career-defining cover of â€œGeorgia on My Mind,â€ that he topped the pop chart and fully exploited his crossover success. It was a feat heâ€™d repeat with 1961â€™s â€œHit the Road Jack,â€ 1962â€™s â€œI Canâ€™t Stop Loving You,â€ and with other titles on the R&B chart. Charlesâ€™ sessions often turned out enough high-grade material to stock both sides of his singles. 1962â€™s landmark cover of Hank Williamsâ€™ â€œYour Cheatinâ€™ Heart,â€ for example, was backed by an even higher-charting take on Governor Jimmie Davisâ€™ â€œYou Are My Sunshine.â€ But the biggest hits arenâ€™t this setâ€™s most intriguing material â€“ itâ€™s the lower-charting singles and B-sides, overshadowed by Charlesâ€™ commercial success, that are the biggest surprise.
Lesser-known highlights include Phil Guilbeauâ€™s trumpet work on Percy Mayfieldâ€™s sly blues â€œBut on the Other Hand, Baby,â€ Gerald Wilsonâ€™s moody arrangements of â€œCareless Loveâ€ and â€œSomethingâ€™s Wrong,â€ a sizzling two-part live remake of Charlesâ€™ 1955 hit â€œI Got a Woman,â€ the Wrecking Crewâ€™s Carole Kaye laying down a funky bass line on â€œThe Train,â€ Charlesâ€™ cooking original version of Ashford & Simpsonâ€™s â€œI Donâ€™t Need No Doctor,â€ Jimmy Holidayâ€™s southern-tinged blue soul â€œSomething Inside Me,â€ Billy Prestonâ€™s gospel organ on â€œHere We Go Again,â€ the bittersweet waltz-time â€œSomebody Ought to Write a Book About It,â€ the gospel testimony of â€œUnderstanding,â€ the Stax-styled â€œLet Me Love You,â€ and the run of Buck Owens tunes (â€œLoveâ€™s Gonna Live Here Again,â€ â€œCrying Timeâ€ and â€œTogether Againâ€) Charles covered in 1965-6.
In the Fall of 1965, Charles began recording in his own RPM International studio, and many of the singles from this era sound pinched (Billy Veraâ€™s liner notes say theyâ€™re â€œdrierâ€), as though they were mixed and EQâ€™d narrowly for AM radio. As the timeline rolls into 1966 and 1967, the compressed dynamic range and mono mixes become anachronistic. As Charlesâ€™ fame grew, he became more dependent on interpreting the songs of staff writers and others. The musical invention of the early â€˜60s settled into a comfortable groove, but Charlesâ€™ blend of soul, blues, jazz, country and pop never failed to offer something unique. Treats in the latter half of the collection include a superbly wrought cover of Sam Cookeâ€™s â€œLaughinâ€™ and Cryinâ€™,â€ a subtle double-tracked vocal on the soul B-side â€œIf You Were Mine,â€ a soulful reworking of â€œAmerica the Beautiful,â€ and a sharp take on â€œRing of Fireâ€ that was Charlesâ€™ last B-side for ABC.
The five discs are housed in individual cardboard folders, with interior reproductions of a label or picture sleeve. The folders are packed in a heavy-duty box with a linen-textured finish and magnetic clasp. The 48-page booklet includes archival photos, detailed musician credits and release data, and new liner notes by Billy Vera. All 106 tracks are mastered in mono. This is a superb way to get acquainted with the range of Ray Charlesâ€™ recordings of the 1960s and early 1970s, combining his best-loved hits with superb B-sides and lower-charting singles that remain obscure to many listeners. Itâ€™s not a substitute for hearing his groundbreaking albums of the era, but an equally worthy profile of the Genius of Soul. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]