Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volumes 1&2
You might think of Ray Charles as the R&B guy in the dark glasses, but he spent more than a few years working in the country music genre. This extensive reissue explores his early 1960s work at transforming the country sound into the crossover music we accept as standard today. The 24 cuts on this collection come from the biggest hits of the ’50s, including “Take These Chains From My Heart,” “Georgia On My Mind,” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” What makes them special and what broke the form are his lush arrangements. Rather than the thin guitar and drum of the honky-tonk sound, Charles and producer Sid Feller applies Charles’ big band to the music, and the records explodes with lush Rat Pack-era horns and strings.
For the most part, the styling is enormously successful, and when first issued, Volume 1 became ABC Records’ first number one album. “Bye, Bye Love” and “Teardrops In My Heart” might not even seem country if you didn’t grow up with the original releases. A few songs jar; Hank Williams’ “Half as Much” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” sound out of place with the lush MGM musical-style orchestral introductions. Still the overall effect is stunning, and it takes the Sparkly Cowboy and Geezers-In-Bib-Overalls sound into the big city and on to Broadway. One of the debates in music today revolves around what exactly constitutes “real” country or “authentic” folk music. That debate likely stems from this disc, but here’s the upside — we can ask the question, and without Ray Charles’ suave vocals and ABC’s early risk taking, the two styles might still be on opposite poles of the Pandora Universe.