Rhino Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Would you believe there's a music critic out there who knows practically nothing about Ray Charles? Well, that was this critic, at least until a few weeks ago. The movie Ray captured my interest, and provoked me to purchase the soundtrack. And giving it a few spins these past few days has made me realize just exactly what I had been missing.

Seventeen original Ray Charles recordings are featured on this disc, 17 songs that are imbedded into the fabric of 20th century America. However, despite this, it was the first time I had actually listened to any of them. From the get-go, I was barraged with sounds and styles, the likes of which I thought no artist could capture so well. There's pop, R&B, gospel, country, jazz, and Charles handles each of them with the same level of quality.

While every single song -- and that is not hyperbole -- is a classic, there are some that immediately stood out to this novice's ears. "Mess Around," the lead-off track. features smoother vocals than what I expected, with Charles' normally gritty, soulful vocal style altered slightly to more of a Nat King Cole approach. The brassy "I've Got A Woman" superimposes rock lyrics over a gospel sound, which led to a controversy over the tune. The smash "What I'd Say" is four and a half minutes of bliss, beginning with the brilliant opening keyboard riff, and closing with the sexually charged back and forth between Charles and the Raelettes.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Oh, but there's more. One of the few tracks I knew from previous listening, "Hit The Road Jack," delivers one of Charles's most effective performances, as he begs, pleads, and finally accepts his fate of being told to "hit the road." "Georgia On My Mind" was a major surprise, a lush, orchestral, jazzy number, yet it tugs at the heartstrings, and takes on a historical significance given the fact Charles was banned from playing in the state for years after defying segregation laws. In fact, this track makes a second appearance on this soundtrack with a 1976 live version that is just as sublime. Interesting also is the fact that there are moments when Charles steps back and lets the spotlight shine on someone else. "Hit The Road Jack," and "(Night Time Is) the Right Time" are prime examples, especially with the latter's soulful exclamations from the women backing the man himself.

Given the fact the film consisted almost solely of Charles' music, I'm sure there are cuts that should have made this disc. Well, there isn't going to be much complaining coming from this side. As an admitted "newbie" to the music of Ray, quite simply I don't know any better. That being said, there was one particular song that piqued my curiosity, "I Believe To My Soul." In the movie, Charles records the harmonies to the track in the style of his Raelettes, imitating their voices. It sounded great in the movie, and I would have liked it to appear on this CD. However, that is a very minor quibble.

I could go on and discuss every track on this album, but that would be redundant. There are only so many possible synonyms for "amazing" or "brilliant." This isn't so much a soundtrack as it is page one to a book, a stepping-stone for bigger and better things. Now is as good a time as any to get into Ray Charles' music, so I suggest you do so. Don't make my mistake.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino Records, and is used for informational purposes only.