You don't need to be a soul fan to recognize the name Ray Charles. Heck, you don't even need to be a music fan. There are books about him (including the autobiographical Brother Ray), movies about him (Ray), Post Offices named after him (in L.A.), a star in his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (here), and he has been inducted into more Hall of Fames than I can count. Add all that together and you've got a man with some serious star power that's not likely to be forgotten any time soon.
And just to make sure that doesn't happen, the fine folks at Concord Records have put some serious energy into bringing Ray into the 21st century. On April 7th, they released 28 albums from his post 1960 catalog of albums, many of which have not seen digital release before. And we're not just talking filler albums that his labels released to cash in on his name, we're talking iconic albums with some monumental cuts digitally remastered from the original tapes for your listening pleasure.
Some might ask, could there really be twenty eight distinct albums that actually deserve to be resurrected? You bet your ebony and ivory there are. Personally, I'd say there are two things that made Ray such an incredible and respected artist. First is the fact that even at the height of his commercial success, he wasn't afraid to push his artistic boundaries into areas that no one expected. Take for example his 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, an album that his peers and label were initially critical of. An album which took folk and country songs and blended them with pop and R&B ingredients and become one of the most celebrated albums of his career whose influence stretched across genres (helping to launch country music into the mainstream) and across races.
The other amazing talent that Ray possessed, which ties into his boundary smashing work, was his ability to take almost any song and make it his own, whether it was turning gospel into pop (like one of his first hits, I Got A Woman, which was based on a gospel hymn, Jesus Is All the World to Me), turning country into R&B (on the before mentioned album), or performing a defining version of a patriotic standard (America the Beautiful). Ray could draw from every corner of the musical world and stamp his own style on it to make it his own.
Which brings us to Genius! - The Ultimate Ray Charles Collection, the other goodie that Concord released on April 17th. While "Ultimate" might be a little exaggerated (considering it takes seven discs just to cover his Atlantic material from the 50's), this twenty one track compilation does a respectable job of bringing together some of his best know hits (Hit the Road Jack, What'd I Say, I've Got A Woman, etc...) with others that casual contemporary listeners might not be familiar with (Sticks and Stones, Let's Go Get Stoned, One Mint Julep, etc...). I'll share one from each camp with you below. Packaged along with the disc is a better than average set of liner notes that briefly summarize Ray's career (you need a book to do him any justice), but then in more depth, provide background on each song, track by track. While longtime fans will find little here to grab their attention (or their money), others who recognize the name but haven't invested in his music will find this a good investment.
and an old original (soon to be re-issued):