If you are for an early album of Ray Charles singing live as we conduct a music appreciation lesson of his work in the wake of his death this week, then "Ray Charles Live" takes us back as far as we can go. While this represents two of his first eight albums, 1958's "Ray Charles at Newport" and 1960's "Ray Charles in Person," and the album's sixteen tracks split down the middle between those works, Atlantic has played with the order a bit and it is hard to complain about the results The first eight tracks were recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 5, 1958, and prove once again that there were few performers as powerful as Charles when he got going. The idea that he was playing R&B and singing gospel is so inadequate to the fusion of those forms that created what we know love as soul music. The standout tracks are "Night Time is the Right Time," the classic "I Got a Woman" (written by Charles and trumpeter Renald Richard), and "Talkin' 'Bout You." The last eight come from a May 28, 1959 concert in Atlanta where the stand out track, as you would expect, is his thrilling version of "What'd I Say." It has to come last, because there is no place left to go after that one. Before that point the highlights are Charles doing his take on some big band songs, "Yes Indeed!" and "Frenesi." Having two version of "Night Time is the Right Time" is a treat (of course I always see the cast of "The Cosby Show" doing it in my mind's eye every time I hear it). But, wow, how strong this album ends, with "Tell the Truth" and a super slowed down version of "Drown In My Own Tears" before Charles sends the congregation home with "What I'd Say." No wonder Ray Charles was a popular concert draw for almost half a century of powerful performances. With the tracks from these two early albums you get spirited performances of Charles doing most of the songs that established his reputation and which are pretty much the ones that you want to be listening to this week. When Charles signed with ABC and recorded songs like "Hit the Road, Jack" he was his most popular, but I still think there was more raw power during his early years at Atlantic. This album would just be more proof along those lines.
This is a splicing together of two live dates, and quite simply, the disc as a whole is mind-blowingly good. The band rocks, Ray sounds better than ever, and there are classic versions of fantastic tunes. This has to be one of the best live records that has ever been available, and whether you already know Ray Charles' work or not, you will really get a kick out of the stuff here. Generally the second half of the disc is better than the first (which is unusual), but there really aren't any flaws.
After playing my Ray Charles 'Live at Newport' vinyl to death,I just had to have this one.All the stuff from the Newport gigs are here and well known.But the revelation to me was the Atlanta show on the second part of the CD.Recorded in front of a screaming,wailing,soul drenched black audience(compared with the staid white jazzers at Newport,who must have wondered what had hit them),Ray really lets go.His band is tight and swinging,The Raelettes are sassy,sexy and cool,and Mr Charles screams, groans,falsettoes,and emotes through the whole set.As a bonus rarity Zenas Sears the Atlanta DJ is heard on the fade after the finale-'What D'I Say'. I first heard Ray Charles on disc back in 1959 singing stuff like 'Greenbacks' and 'The night time is the right time'Then live in London in 1962.It shaped my love of black music ever since and this CD brought it all back.Brilliant musician and much missed.
I bought the LP, of the Atlanta concert, in 1960. It knocked me out then, and it knocks me out now. For me, this IS Ray Charles. In the intro to 'Night Time is the Right Time' Ray says, '...and Miss Marjorie Hendricks will help out on vocals...', and boy, does she help out! Turn up the volume and strap yourself down.