Ray Charles has always known the difference between a good
and bad song, whether that song be jazz, blues, soul, or even country.
Over the span of his career, Ray recorded some amazing songs and put
his unique stamp on each of them, imbuing the writing with his own
flavor and life. With that in mind, as the man turned his attention
from the more "black" American music to what was the mainstay
of "white" recorded music at the time, Charles had no choice
but to tackle the genre that was filled with amazing songs, but was
limited in its commercial appeal. And now, in 2009, Concord Records
has finally given the original recordings their due, giving a complete
and wonderful remastering of the classic two records released by Ray
Charles in the early 1960s that forever helped to change the landscape
of country and western music. In the early '60s, Chet Atkins
had already started to pave the way for country music moving to a
more produced and commercially viable format, palatable to a much
wider range of listeners. These two records from Ray Charles not only
built upon the foundation that Atkins had lain, but indelibly inscribed
a softer, more robust sound on the genre. With his string accompaniment
and amazing chorus of background vocalists, Charles forever changed
country music - not always for the better - and left his incredible
mark on the songs.
Kicking Modern Sounds... Volume 1 off with a swinging version
of "Bye Bye Love" gets things immediately rolling in the
direction that is obviously to come. The classic "Half As Much"
is slowed down and given big band treatment, the sound filled out
with horns and strings as Ray Charles gives the vocals his full soulful
gusto, endowing the song with a panache that didn't really exist beforehand.
Some of the songs get a very big Vegas-sounding treatment with full
band while others maintain more of a sparser sound, owing more to
the origins of the tunes. Charles' version of "Hang Your Head
In Shame" and "Worried Mind" retain a bit more of the
Western charm of the genre, and stay slow and low, mixing strings
in over the beautiful melodies and a more traditional country chorus.
"Oh, Lonesome Me" comes on strong with full big band horns
and swinging rhythms, pulling in the best of the swing era and infusing
such a great country tune with that vibrancy and sound. By the time
Charles gets to the Hank Williams' classic "Your Cheating
Heart" the stage has been set for a fully orchestrated sound
with undeniable class, but his reading of the Williams' song has a
strength and purity that overshadows its slick production and grand
arrangement. There is a deep tone of his respect on the record, and
even more so on Volume 2, where Charles goes on to cover such
wonderful classics as "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You
Don't Know Me". The songs from Volume 2 have a bit more
sonic depth, a thicker string sound and more compelling vocal chorus,
focusing more on the songs themselves than on Charles' own voice.
The broad strings of "Born To Lose" wonderfully offset Ray's
voice and his understated piano, creating an atmosphere more at home
in the cocktail parties of Manhattan nightlife than in the rough and
tumble roadhouses of the South where many of these songs had their
While it could be argued that Ray Charles did irreparable damage
to country and Western music with the release of Modern Sounds
Vols. 1 & 2, there is no denying the incredible power that
the albums hold. Not only did they help to make a previously looked-down-upon
genre of music appeal to a much wider audience, they brought a sophistication
to the production of said music, creating a new standard for recorded
music. And while Ray stamped these songs with his own voice, he was
very careful to retain the history and individuality of the songs
in his re-worked performances, showing the depth of his respect for
the "hillbilly" music with which he was trifling. The songs
on the two records are amazingly recorded and wonderfully remastered
for CD, compiling an amazing collection of amazing songs presented
in an undeniably American format
and they sound truly wonderful.
Check out more
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!