Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#39: Ray Charles - The Genius of Ray Charles (1958)

This album's contents was unexpected. When I think of Ray Charles I think of blues and soulful piano mixed with Ray Charles' patented vocals. However, this album was more of a big band / blues album with just a smidge of gospel. Quite possibly one of the most influential musicians in my life was Billy Joel, who's biggest influence was Mr. Charles. For that reason alone I've been looking forward to this album. It did not disappoint.

A mix of rock and roll, blues, and big band. The big horns are really what threw me off the most, with the lack of a big piano sound. However, it's used incredibly effective. The horns clear the way to let Charles' vocals really ring through - however, keeping the same amount of energy. "I got 50 cents more than I'm gonna keep - so let the good times roll."

I chose to highlight this song because of it's focus on the crooning style. The man pulls it off. The mix of the crooning with a little blues adds a very modern sound to it and it's hard to believe it was recorded 54 years ago. The vocal parts where he throws the last word straight up is just amazing. However, even after the big horns keep the silky parts coming - the piano comes in with a little ditty that allows Charles to re-enter the song in such a smooth way. The ending takes the cake, Charles goes falsetto while the horns finish it off and you know it can't get any better. Until it does - Ray lifts the note even higher and it's the perfect end to the best rendition of this song I've ever heard.

Never have I heard this much gravity, this much sheer weight in this song. Such meaning, such brilliance, such genius. It's the best track on the album and it also totes the best arrangement. The beginning of the song with just vocals and piano makes the track - everything else is just extra. The instrumentation afterwards keeps the swells and the embellishments but keeps out of the way of the best vocals on the album. Best track, hands down.

All in all, it's my favorite album so far from the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die'. The piano fills throughout the album add plenty of thoughts, but not in an overwhelming way. It's more thinking in terms of lines and curves than notes. It's nothing like I expected and it's everything I could hope an album could be. You gotta have big, giant, brass balls to call your album "The Genius of Me". However, if you can do what Ray can do - you'd probably do it too.

Tomorrow's album: Fiona Apple's Tidal.

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