Back in September 2005 when the American reissue label Rhino were still a force to be reckoned with (they've all but disappeared now) - they put out this stunning "Pure Genius" Box Set Stateside in a mock record-player carry-case - sort of like a British Dansette (see separate entry on Amazon). It was a beautifully elaborate affair and even boasted an 8th disc - a DVD of the famous Newport Jazz Festival appearance in 1960. This UK-released July 2012 'mini' box set is a 7-disc mid-price reissue of that costly and oversized packaging (unfortunately minus the DVD).
"Pure Genius - The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959)" comes in a tasty 5" x 5" card box with 155 remastered tracks across 7 CDs (Barcode 8122-79735-06). Disc 7 is a collectors dream - a whopping 36 unreleased tracks culled from 1953, 1958 and 1959 sessions - complete with dialogue in between some cuts. The individual cards are simply numbered 1 to 7 and are different colours with a basic track list on the rear - so a little dull if the truth were told. But the CD-sized booklet is amazing. Across 80-pages there's a forward by label founder Ahmet Ertegun, an essay on Brother Ray's beginnings and legacy by noted musicologist David Ritz (Pages 9 to 45) and the original liner notes for every LP issue for the period (Pages 46 to 60). It finishes with a fully annotated track list, separate LP and Single Discographies and the set's credits. Rhino's long-standing tape engineers and experts - Dan Hersch and Bill Inglot - remastered the tracks from the original masters to fabulous effect.
The 12 studio albums included are:
"Ray Charles" (1956), "The Great Ray Charles" (1957), "Soul Brothers" (with Milt Jackson, 1958), "Ray Charles At Newport" (1958), "Yes Indeed!" (1958), "What I Say" (1959), "The Genius Of Ray Charles" (1959), "Fathead/Ray Charles Presents David Newman" (1959), "Ray Charles In Person" (1960), "The Genius After Hours" (1961), "The Genius Sings The Blues" (1961) and "Soul Meeting" (again with Milt Jackson, 1962).
The 6 subsequent compilation albums are:
"The Great Hits Of Ray Charles Recorded On 8-Track Stereo" (1964), "The Ray Charles Story - Volumes 1 to 4" and "Ray Charles: A Life In Music - You Can't Fake The Feeling" (1982).
It also features every 7"/78" single issued during the period that were non-album.
Some may feel that this reissue is lessened by the loss of the visual - the DVD - and it is. But I'd argue that if you're on a budget - don't let that exclusion put you off because the audio is simply mind-blowing. Not only is the sound just glorious - track after track is imbibed with his wonderful talent for a tune - and even the outtakes sound 'so' good. Lesser-heard gems get an airing like the R&B-tinged "Roll With My Baby" (his 1st single on Atlantic 976) sided with familiar mellow anthems like "Just For A Thrill", "Come Rain Or Shine" and "Drown In My Own Tears" (lyrics above). "Ray's Blues" sounds suitable mournful while the strings on "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'" show he could carry any kind of tune. Even something as simple as "A Bit Of Soul" - a 1957 piano and sax instrumental used as a B-side in 1960 - sounds so impossibly cool. And there's over a hundred more where they came from...
OK - visually it lacks the sheer impact of the original issue - but at under twenty-five quid from some online retailers - it's still a bona-fide winner and a whole lotta musical class for not a lotta wonga.
Genius is an over-used word in the music business - but Georgia's Ray Charles Robinson was surely one of them. And this wonderful little box set is a fitting tribute to those amazing years of discovery and risk-taking and those pioneering believers in Atlantic Records.
PS: Lovers of ATLANTIC, STAX and VOLT Records should note that as of October 2012 there is a massive reissue program of classic albums going on in Japan - 100+ titles to be exact (which includes Ray Charles). They feature Fifties Blues and R'n'B, Sixties and Seventies Soul, Funk & Fusion. All are budget price (£7.50 per disc) and feature 2012 DSD remastering. Many of these titles are familiar - but a huge number are new to CD. For a full detailed list of these Japanese reissues - see the 'comment' section attached to this review...