RIFFS: Classic Ray Charles 'Country' discs polished and reissued

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 12:00am
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When Ray Charles departed Atlantic for ABC Records in 1959, no one was quite sure what the move meant musically.

It was an economic boom for Charles, who negotiated what was then a revolutionary deal that left him in control of his masters (a move dramatized in the film Ray). But he’d already helped pioneer the emergence of soul by putting secular lyrics on gospel songs, made some magnificent small combo and jazz releases and shown himself to be not only a great pianist and bandleader, but also a radical conceptualist.

So no one was prepared for what would come in 1962. Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music and its subsequent second volume stunned observers throughout the music world, not only due to its content, but also because many fans were unaware of Charles’ roots singing country as a youthful performer or his longtime love for the form through listening to Grand Ole Opry broadcasts.

Plus, Charles incorporated the country song form into the swing/big band arranging universe, as longtime jazz types like Gerald Wilson, Gil Fuller and later Marty Paich provided horn charts and accompaniment to classic country numbers penned by Don Gibson, Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Harlan Howard and others.

These albums brought new audiences not only to country, but to Charles — at least from those who were unaware of this element of his music.

Now Modern Sounds in Country And Western Music Volumes 1 & 2 (Concord) has been reissued on one comprehensive CD as part of the continuing Ray Charles reissue program.

Numbers such as “You Don’t Know Me,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Busted,” “Cryin’ Time” and “Together Again” smashed all the silly format barriers back in the ‘60s, and still sound majestic today. The reissue contains all 24 tracks from the initial two LPs, plus new liner notes from Bill Dahl alongside the original ones from Rick Ward and Sid Feller, the person who quickly pulled “I Can’t Stop Loving You” off the album and turned it into one of Charles’ biggest single hits.

No matter what period or style of Ray Charles’ music you prefer, Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music Volumes 1 & 2 ranks among his greatest work.

Another Charles gem

When Ray Charles created Tangerine Records in 1963, he continued his quest to make whatever type of recording he desired completely free of any label pressures. A Message From The People (Concord) was a prime example of that desire.

A 10-song release featuring Charles doing political and topical cuts about everything from political assassinations (“Abraham, Martin and John”) to dissent (“Heaven Help Us All”) and racism (“There’ll Be No Peace Without All Men As One”), A Message From The People isn’t exactly the type of thing that delights commercial types looking for quick hits.

But Charles did include a couple of numbers with less pointed commentary like “”Every Saturday Night” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” while bracketing the session with soaring versions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “America The Beautiful.”

Charles’ Tangerine releases haven’t always been that easy to find, and this is one most deserving of the deluxe reissue treatment.

Other reissues

Boom Boom Rock ‘n’ Roll – The Best of Freddy Cannon (Shout! Factory) spotlights the rousing, celebratory material of Philadelphia’s Freddy Cannon, who enjoyed a good chart between 1959 and 1965.

Cannon’s forte was catchy numbers and novelty-flavored, fun pieces done in high-energy fashion. None of these songs were lyrically heavy, but they served their purpose. He’d occasionally do something surprising like his 1961 cover of a vintage traditional jazz tune “Muskrat Ramble,” but such song as “Tallahassee Lassie,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” “Palisades Park” (written by game show impresario Chuck Barris) and “For Me and My Gal” were his forte.

Boom Boom Rock ‘n’ Roll
takes you back to a time when simplicity and fun were at the core of the music, even if things sometimes got a bit repetitive musically.