Ray Charles, 1930-2004: Part 2 of 4

C. Michael Bailey By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Ray Charles
The Very Best of Ray Charles
Rhino Records

Ray Charles (not Georgia) has been on my mind. On the day the great musician passed away, I penned the short tome to his unique contribution to music, Ray Charles, 1930-2004: Part 1 . I added the Part 1 suffix only recently when I decided to write a Part 2. I was going out of town recently and was searching for a Best of' package of the Great One and I found it in the Rhino release The Very Best of Ray Charles. Mr. Charles, like Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, and any other music luminary of similar ilk have had assembled in their respective names Greatest Hits packages of various innate values. The vast majority of these compilations are horribly anemic attempts to capture the spirit of a great artist, typically as represented on a single record label.

Not so with The Very Best of Ray Charles. This 16-track CD very fairly captures the depth and breadth of this singular American musician. All phases of Charles' lengthy career are represented—from his sensual fusion of the sacred and secular in creating Soul Music to his transformation of Country and Western Music to his keen insight into the great American Songbook. With a passionate, almost effortless deftness, Mr. Charles approached, evaluated, and recast all things in American music.

'a slight digression'

I was introduced to the blues by John Mayall, Paul Butterfield, The Allman Brothers Band, The Climax Blues Band, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker'in other words, Caucasian musicians largely emulating the founding fathers of the music. It was from the latter of these that I was introduced to Ray Charles.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen contained several of the tracks on this current Ray Charles recording, offering a great juxtaposition of styles on the same music. Appearing first on the Cocker offering is Hot Springs, Arkansas native Henry Glover's "Stick and Stones." With the Mad Dogs and Englishmen really BIG band, bloated and boozy, soul is added on soul for a rich b'arnaise of R&B. The same can be said for "Drown in My Own Tears" and the truly sublime "Let's Go Get Stoned." Cocker and Charles differ most dramatically in the respect that the excesses of Cocker's big band and Leon Russell's arrangements vastly dilute the tart sexuality of the Charles versions. That is not to say that Cocker's versions are not soulful. Joe Cocker is the best interpreter of the Ray Charles Book living. Using a Biblical analogy, Ray Charles can be considered, "The Word" and Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Steve Marriott, Eric Burdon and countless others are the purveyors of the Word.

'Back on Track'

The 16 tracks on this recording all represent Charles' vision of Soul Music while using different genre vehicles to get there. "I Got a Woman," Hallelujah I Love Her So," and "What'd I Say" was unadulterated Rhythm & Blues in transformation. "A Fool for You," "Drown in My Own Tears," "The Night Time is the Right Time," and "Let's Go Get Stoned" were borne of sophisticated blues. "I Can't Stop Loving You," "You are My Sunshine," "Busted," and "Seven Spanish Angels" are of the Country Music Canon. "Sticks and Stones," "One Mint Julip," Unchain My Heart," and "Hit the Road Jack" are examples of the Great One's fully-formed Soul. "Georgia on My Mind" nods at composer Hoagy Carmichael before it becomes one of Charles' theme songs.

And in the end, it is the singular Charles who can interpret and then claim any music he played. He was not always successful. But considered over his 60 years of performing, possibly no one else had as unique a voice in American Music.

For more information, please see Rhino Records and Ray Charles .

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