Ray Charles was famous in the US long before we had heard his records over here. In those days we rightly admired Joe Turner, Joe Williams and Jimmy Witherspoon as the best of the city blues singers. By the time the first Ray Charles LPs crept out in the UK we had rather missed the boat.
Perhaps we didn’t pick up on the fact that the three Js stuck within their boundaries like a train followed its rails, while Ray was totally flexible and empowered by his sincerity with the blues and, uniquely, with ballads too.
Although he didn’t flaunt his abilities. Ray had the ability to make everyone, including Crosby and Sinatra, sound square by comparison. The fact that his voice was also virtually a jazz horn made the difference. The only variable in the quality of a Ray Charles recording is in the accompaniment, not in the singer.
The CD A Message From The People is a group of titles that Ray had been working on as a special project for some years. The singing is outstanding and skilful, but perhaps the backing is over-written or rehearsed. Ray treats it with a respect that impinges slightly on the result. The LP is completely uninhibited and the first four tracks have him soaring and adorning the blues at his very best. The big band sounds ragged enough to be his own and has a couple of empty tenor solos. The second side, from the same performance, flags a little, but only in comparison with the preceding four tracks.
As Ray Charles can only be compared with Ray Charles, both the CD and the LP are made from powerful stuff, and no-one buying either should be disappointed.
A Message From The People (CD): Lift Every Voice and Sing; Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong; Heaven Help Us All; There’ll Be No Peace Without All Men As One; Hey, Mister; What Have They Done To My Song, Ma; Abraham, Martin And John; Take Me Home, Country Roads; Every Saturday Night; America The Beautiful (38.40)
Live In Stockholm 1972 (LP): Alexander’s Ragtime Band What’d I Say?; I’ve Had My Fun; Games People Play; Don’t Change On Me; I Can’t Stop Loving You; Marie; I’ve Got A Woman (38.33)
Charles (v, p) with, probably, the Ray Charles Orchestra.
Live In Stockholm 1972: Tangerine Records TRC 21111
A Message From The People: Tangerine Records TRC 21222