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Ray Charles

Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Volumes 1 & 2 – 2009 (Concord)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Ray Charles

To say that Ray Charles pushed the envelope with these two reissue releases on one CD would have been an understatement at the time. Charles, of course, was known for being a black pop and R&B singer, but he grew up with country music in his native Florida listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts on Saturday evenings and wanted to stretch his musical boundaries. The result was volume 1 recorded in February 1962.

From the get go with a cover of the Everly Brothers' Bye Bye Love, it was clear that Charles put his own stamp on country. Charles gave soulful readings of most of the songs, not giving an overtly country feel. There are syrupy strings and backing vocals to many songs, typical of the day, along with jazzy, big band tones (Half as Much). The best known song is his chestnut I Can't Stop Loving You, which hit number one on the pop charts and sold a million copies. Interestingly, while considered groundbreaking in expanding the country audience (perhaps similarly as country has gone pop in recent years and expanded its audience), Charles never had any success on the country song charts until the 1980's.

With one success under his belt, Charles was ready for Volume 2, which he cut seven months later. The vibe was similar with songs like You Are My Sunshine, Oh, Lonesome Me and a slow, mournful take of Hank Williams' Your Cheating Heart.

These releases would not be the last of Charles' foray into country (for a far more expansive look at Charles' involvement in country, check out Rhino's four-CD box set) with his biggest country hit being a duet with Willie Nelson on Seven Spanish Angels, going number one in 1984. But the two "Modern Sounds" releases would prove trailblazing for country music.