on 23 August 2011
Presented in this box set are 5 early albums from one of the twentieth century's greatest musicians. For anyone not familiar with Ray Charles they display a surprisingly varied output that demonstrates Ray's talents in the fields of blues, jazz and soul.
First up is the 1957 album "The Great Ray Charles", which displays Ray in a "jazz" setting, his piano playing just a part of a crack selection of jazz musicians who give this album a mellow feel with much blue tonality. From these sessions, Atlantic Records also put together a second 8 track album called "The Genius after Hours", not released until 1961. This is also included in this box set. Both of these albums are great to unwind to and personally I have never tired of them, always finding something new in them. It should be noted there are no vocals on either of these two albums.
The next disc in this set is "Ray Charles At Newport", recorded in 1958 in stereo. This is a mixture of rousing jazzy instrumentals with some fantastic bluesy vocal performances including Ray's famous track, "I've Got A Woman", here in 6 minutes and 24 seconds of primal emotional intensity that never tires, always moving, twisting and turning into one of the greatest vocal performances I have ever heard.
The next album included is "The Genius of Ray Charles", an album from 1959, which is my personal favourite. The first 6 tracks show Ray in a big band setting from the rousing "Let The Good Times Roll", arranged by Quincy Jones to more mellow fair like "It Had To Be You" to the storming brassy jazz of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band". Sensational! However, side two (on the old vinyl LP) is possibly even better consisting of 6 luscious ballads with gorgeous string backing arrangements and the most soulful male vocals I have ever heard. Tracks like "Tell Me You'll Wait For Me" and "Don't let The Sun Catch You Crying" can stir the deepest emotions. Not for nothing is Ray Charles considered by many to be the "Father of Soul".
Finally there is the 1961 compilation "The Genius Sings The Blues", 12 cuts of blues and gospel derived magic that sums up his Atlantic recordings to date (1961). Wonderful!
Finally a word about the packaging in this box set. Each album is a facsimile of the original vinyl LP on both the front and back covers. There are no bonus tracks, which personally for me enhances this package as you get to listen to the albums as they were intended. On the back of each album are the original notes which can be read providing your vision is sound! If not, a magnifying glass is needed. Each album is under 40 minutes long which is perfect for one sitting.
For me, Ray Charles is clearly as innovative and groundbreaking in his way as an act like the Beatles were in pop/rock later on. These albums are from Ray's most fertile artistic period, although it must be said that there are many other classic albums by Ray Charles that could have been included. For anyone interested in his work this package makes a fantastic introduction.
Five Ray Charles albums all from his Atlantic years. Has to be a bargain, yes? Well, not necessarily. It depends what you're looking for. The music contained in this grouping doesn't really do justice to the man's reputation as forefather of soul music. Taking them in order:
"The Great Ray Charles"
His first Atlantic album release and it's all instrumental featuring his piano plus big band though a few tracks are small group only. All jazz with several interpretations of standards such as "My Melancholy Baby'" and "Undecided". If I can full trust the Amazon listing - and I'm doing this review based on that rather than the actual set - five tracks have been removed from the original because they also appear on the "Genius After Hours" set. Which is all very well to avoid repetition but you could feel somewhat short changed.
"Ray Charles at Newport"
That is, at the Newport Jazz Festival. This one might be the best of the bunch given that it has live versions of R&B cum soul classics like a slowed down "Night Time is the Right Time" (with great Raylettes "answering"), a nicely churning "I got a Woman" and "Talkin' bout you" and the slow bluesy "Fool for you". Otherwise it's jazz but with good live atmosphere
"The Genius of Ray Charles"
A fair to good album but with too little blues and gospel and hardly anything up tempo. Highlights are "Let the good times roll" and "Don't let the sun catch you crying". It gets overly poppy at times with easy listening numbers like "It had to be you", the near novelty "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "Tell me that you'll wait for me" and "Am I blue". This album, which was the last "real" album prior to the Atlantic move - the ones below were both from existing material - suggests strongly that Charles was already moving away from strongly blues based music before he joined ABC Paramount.
"The Genius sings the blues"
Has the original of "Night Time is the Right Time", a great call and response (with the Raylettes) medium tempo blues, a storming version of the up tempo country number "I'm movin' on", plus the splendid "I believe to my soul" again with the Raylettes, but otherwise it's largely after hours blues and not unlike some of his pre-Atlantic music. Rather a mixed album and slightly disappointing given the title.
"The Genius after hours"
This is a compilation of material culled from the original "Great Ray Charles" - see above - and another Atlantic album "Soul Brothers, w. Milt Jackson". This is light jazz all the way through. No vocals.
The last two of these albums were released after Ray had moved to ABC and were purely attempts to cash in on what was left in the Atlantic "bank" as it were. In particular the "After Hours" album was almost an affront to anyone who had been collecting him from the start.
In my eyes, this set doesn't represent the best of Ray Charles during his Atlantic years unless you like him more for his jazzy excursions. They could have included the "Yes Indeed" or, particularly, the "What'd I say" albums if they were really trying to portray an overall view of his output during this timeframe.
I don't like dropping Brother Ray to three stars but I think it's warranted here.
on 1 February 2011
Of course the music was going to be good...
Nicely covers the Atlantic Records years, but it would have been much better with 'Ray Charles in Person' squeezed in - the albums 'The Great Ray Charles' & 'The Genius after Hours' are products from the same studio sessions.
And yes, you need a magnifying glass to read the miniature sleeve notes, which I'm told are copies of the original covers.
But still great value - I guess I'll have to get 'in Person' as well, somehow.