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Ray Charles' famous 12-song cover set transports to another age


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Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music – Ray Charles

*****

 

It’s easy to compare Rock and Roll’s ’50s legends. Was it Elvis that started the revolution? Or was it Chuck Berry? Was Little Richard more flamboyant than Jerry Lee Lewis? Was Buddy Holly the sleeper that beat all of them? These are debates that will live on (particularly in The East Texan’s own comment section). But then there’s Ray Charles. Armed with a voice that meant to singing what Jimi Hendrix guitar meant to his music, and a track record of consistency that outshines any of his forebears and almost all of those than came afterward, Ray Charles is a genre, and a legend without peer.

Who else could take a cover album and make it into one of the undeniably great records of all time? Granted Sunrise came close, but even that had its hiccups and overstayed its welcome stretching a one disc set into a two-disc collection. It’s been well documented that while Lewis delved into covering other artists, he never came close to surpassing them, choosing instead to perform his two or three key tracks over and over again. Yet somehow, with nothing more than a choir, a fantastic orchestra, three days, and a voice that could turn a Drake album into gold, Ray Charles took twelve songs from a genre that should’ve never been able to use any of the above and made them his own.

The secret to Ray Charles’ genius was perhaps his most understated skill: his ability to arrange music. With each piano fill, each instrumental intro, each gutteral howl, Charles reconstructs every song here and makes them almost unrecognizable. Album opener “Bye Bye Love,” for instance, is forever associated with The Everly Brothers. Probably the most famous song here (outside of bonus track “You Are My Sunshine” which Charles somehow transforms into a killer groove without even breaking a sweat), “Bye Bye Love” is so different from its original version that it’s almost inconceivable to compare it to its forebear. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine any song here performed by an artist other than Charles. The vibration of the orchestra’s strings on “Worried Mind” sound as if they are being played directly from the heart while the organ on bonus track “Here We Go Again” must’ve really blown some heads in 1962. And when Charles breaks into “You Don’t Know Me” as strings swell and the choir echoes, it’s impossible not to be taken back to a simpler time when the next classic was just an effortless moment away.

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