Last year, I watched a movie, Ray. It was about that blind black guy that sang Georgia on my Mind. I think he was in the Blues Brothers movie too. I thank that film for opening up my ears to the incredibly rich and diverse musical career that Ray Charles had. He went from being that blind black guy that sang Georgia on my Mind, to one of my favorite artists in the musical journey that followed seeing the movie. I won't review Ray plenty already have, but I want to let you all know what a marvelous box set Ray Charles Genius & Soul 50th Anniversary Collection is, especially for someone just discovering the genius that was Ray Charles.
Presentantion The box itself if very attractive, its a long rectangular box, and a shiloette of a piano appears on the front cover, with the keys at the bottom of the box. Rays face can be made out in light gold, and the initials RC are on the cover in gold. On the back is a listing of the considerable number of tracks on five compact discs offering a very good set of songs spanning his career. Inside is a beautiful book that gives a lot of information about Ray Charles himself. Although I didn't learn too much that I didn't know from seeing the movie and buying his autobiography, the book gives a nice background on Ray Charles the person and Ray Charles the musician. It also lists a complete catalog of his work. I also would note that it contains notes on the back of the book in Braille. I don't know what it said.
Rhino QualityThe Box set was released by Rhino Records in 1997. Anyone familiar with Rhino knows that they take great care in compact disc releases, and have the best sound possible from the original masters. I have never been disappointed with the sound quality of a release from Rhino, and I certainly wasn't disappointed with the quality of any of the five discs in this beautiful box set.
Volume 1 This volume includes highlights from Ray Charles music from 1949 to 1959. Songs include Confessional Blues, Baby let me Hold Your Hand, Kissa Me Baby, It shoulda Been Me, Don't You know, Come Back Baby, I've Got a Woman, A fool for you, This Little Girl of Mine, Blackjack, Greenbacks, Drown in My Own Tears, Hallelujiah I Love her So, Lonely Avenue, Leave My Woman Alone, Ain't That Love, Swanee River Rock, My Bonnie, Rockhouse, (Night Time) is the Right Time, What'd I Say, Tell the Truth, I Believe to My Soul and Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying The sound quality on the first disc is probably the worst given the original masters, yet the sounds of the music and the sheer energy will overcome any problems with the quality. I was surprised how much I liked these songs all recorded 15 to 5 years before I was born. They are mostly blues and R& B tunes. I don't have all night to write, and I don't think you have all day to read, so I will NOT bore you with a track by track description of the entire box set. Let me just say that for Volume One, my favorite song was What'd I Say If you saw the movie or even the trailer, you'd recognize the nice deep piano notes that start the song off with a bang. They are soon joined with the drums and upper note riffs on the piano. Its the kind of song that just gets your toes tapping. city girl with a diamond ring, she knows how to shake that thing . tell your papa, tell your ma, gonna send you back to arkansaw [sic] This is also the song that Ray involves the audience with encouraging them to answer Oh OH ah AH Ooh OOH . The progression of songs on this album slowly shows Ray building his voice up from an imitator of other popular R&B and Blues artist to finding his own voice. We also hear early songs with the "Raylettes". I learned that it was Ray Charles that came up with the idea of three backing female singers for one male vocalist, it had not been done prior to that. Those days in the 80s I watched Robert Palmer backed with three women in black dresses, I never knew that! Thanks Ray! The first volume rocks and its a great start to a great set.
Volume 2 covers hit songs that ray Charles covered in only the years 1959 to 1962. He was really finding his voice in these years, establishing himself as a very popular artist. More songs with the "Raylets" are on this volume. This album contains the songs Let the Good Times Roll, Come Rain or Come Shine, Tell the Truth, Drown in My Own Tears, I'm Movin On, My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do), Sticks and Stones, I Wonder, Georgia On My Mind, Them that Got, Ruby, Hardhearted Woman, I've Got News for You, One Mint Julep, I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town, Hit the Road Jack, The Danger Zone, Unchain My Heart, But on the Other Hand Baby, Baby Its Cold Outside (with Betty Carter), Ev'ry Time we Say Goodbye (with Betty Carter) and At the Club
Well aside from the ONE song I used to know from Ray, Georgia on my mind this volume contains one of my all time favorite Ray Charles tunes Hit the Road Jack! I love the power in the saxaphone, the guitars and Ray Charles deep powerful voice in this song. Hit the Road Jack, and don't you come back no more WHAT'D YOU SAY Hit the Road Jack, and don't you come back no more. WOMAN OH WOMAN WHY'D YOU HAVE TO BE SO MEAN You know the song, its playing in your head right now isn't it? If you know me, you know that I hate country western music. I learned a VERY interesting thing about Ray Charles. He is the man who made Country Western popular to a main stream audience. Its true, you can look it up yourself. One song on Volume 2 hints why. Unchain My Heart a classic tear jerking twangy guitar sounding depressing country song is given an entirely new life by Mr. Ray Charles. After an intro deep sax solo and brass section Rays voice BOOMS UNCHAIN MY HEART The Raylettes chime in Unchain my heart Ray booms again BABY LET ME BE UNCHAIN MY HEART CAUSE YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT ME All the while the Raylettes sing in the back Unchain my Heart. Throw in some awesome saxaphone solos and bongo drums and a sad depressing country song is magically transformed into a kicking rocking R&B tune, but yet retains its country sadness. Who but Ray Charles could do that!? His two duets with Betty Carter sound wonderful. Volume 2 shows how Ray Charles really found his voice and let it sing! He didn't stick with just R&B either, any genre he touched with his voice he made his own.
Volume 3 This volume really takes off with Ray singing everything he took a fancy to, and making a song that crossed all genres. Ray Charles is one of the very few artists to have hits in R&B, Blues, Jazz, Pop and Country Western. Volume 3 contains Hide nor Hair, I Can't Stop Lovin You, Bye Bye Love, Born to Lose, You Don't Know Me, You are My Sunshine, Your Cheatin Heart, Take These Chains from My Heart, The Brightest Smile in Town, Without Love there is Nothing, Busted, That Lucky Old Sun, Ol Man River, Smack Dab in the Middle, Makin Whoopee, Without a Song, The Cincinnati Kid, Cryin Time, Let's Get Stoned, I Chose to Sing the Blues, Together Again, I Don't Need No Doctor.
On this volume many of his country songs are featured I Can't Stop Lovin You, Born to Lose, You Don't Know Me, You are My Sunshine, Your cheatin Heart, and Take these Chains from My Heart. This is only a small sampling of his country catalogue. He issued quite a few country albums, but the songs included here clearly illustrate why it was Ray Charles that made this genre popular across America. I, a man who likes all forms of music EXCEPT for Country and Western LOVE every country and western song Ray sings here. His voice is so emotional and so soulful that he just owns the songs. Listening to them, you would feel like he wrote every last one of them from his own personal feelings of heartbreak and pain. In that Ray joins Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Neil Young as one of the very few musicians who have recorded Country and Western music that I really love. Give it a listen, you may too (especially if you like C&W already). What he does with spiritual songs like That Lucky Old Sun and Ole' Man River have to be heard to be believed.
Volume 4 This album proves that WHATEVER Ray Charles chooses to sing becomes uniquely his. The album starts with two songs by The Beatles Eleanor Rigby and Yesterday. I've heard many covers of the Beatles, they are one of the most covered bands in history, in fact, I believe Yesterday is the MOST covered song (either that or White Christmas, I am not sure). Most covers aren't as good as the original. Ray makes these songs his. I was amazed at the interpretation he gives them just by the tone and timber of his voice and the tempo of the songs. They sound more soulful and emotional than Lennon and McCartney ever did. Also on the album are Undertanding, Drifting Blues, Here we Go Again, In the Heat of the Night, Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You, I didn't know what Time it was, If it Wasn't for Bad Luck, We Can Make It, Don't Change Me, Feel So Bad, Look What They've Done to My Song, MA, Spirit in the Sky, Booty Butt, I Can't Make it Thru the Days, Rainy Night in Georgia and American the Beautiful The only other thing I can say here, is that you haven't heard America the Beautiful until you've heard Ray Charles sing it. Volume Four has brought us right from 67 to 72.
Volume Five proves that Ray Charles was able to keep making hits into a fifth decade. This album contains songs done by Charles from 72, right up to 1993. I also enjoyed this volume because many of the songs are duets with other famous singers. Songs on Volume 5 are Living for the City, Til There Was You, Am I Blue, How Long has This Been Going On, The Jealous Kind, Is There Anyone Out There, Don't You Love Me Anymore, One of these Days, Seven Spanish Angels (with Willie Nelson), We Don't See a Thing (with George Jones and Chet Akins), Two Old Cats Like Us (with Hank Williams Jr.), Shake Your Tail Feather (with the Blues Brothers), I'll be Good to You (with Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan), Thats Where It's At (with Lou Rawls), A Song for You, and Neil Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years .
What more can I say about this Box Set? I really loved that with one box, I was able to obtain a set of songs which shows a Ray Charles I never knew or heard. I was introduced to the young Ray Charles, the star Ray Charles, the Legend Ray Charles. I heard R&B Ray Charles, Blues Ray Charles, Jazz Ray Charles, Country Ray Charles, Standards Ray Charles. You know what? I loved them all. If you haven't discovered the Genius that was Ray Charles, this wonderful box set will fill that gaping hole in your music collection. I am glad that I did.