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Ray Charles
Modern Sounds In Country & Western Vol. 1&2
Concord Records
www.concordmusicgroup.com


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 birth.

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.

-David DeVoe

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