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.