Ray Charles

Ray Charles

Ray Charles

The Genius Hits The Road

Concord Records

The ’70s were packed with concept albums, but the idea came from the earliest days of the microgroove LP. When music technology switched from the 4-minute shellac disc to the 15-minute per side LP, two issues arose — an artist now had a larger canvas to perform upon, and there was more time to fill. To this day, so many albums hold one or two hits and 30 minutes of filler. Ray Charles had the opposite problem — his repertoire was so extensive, it’s hard to subtract tracks to make a coherent collection.

This 1960 vintage LP took songs about travel and destinations and fit them together with elaborate Ralph Burns arrangements. The flow of cool jazz and big bands still pulsed in America’s musical bloodstream, and Charles’ “The Genius Hits the Roads” might be one of the best examples of the era. We open with an impossible jazzy “Alabamy Bound,” originally a minstrel standard from Tin Pan Alley. Later on, we arrive at “Moonlight in Vermont,” a moody collection of haiku verse featuring a smooth Bing Crosby style arrangement. The fine folks at Concord added seven bonus cuts, almost as many as a whole new disc. There are some unusual covers in this lot, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, County Roads” takes on a different feel under Charles’ control, as does the slightly dissonant “The Long and Winding Road.”

That’s the genius of the old record labels; they can take nearly any tune and re-imagine it in any other style they feel they can market. What ties these scattered styles together is Ray Charles’ deeply resonant voice — it leave you feeling like you should slip on your smoking jacket, get one of the bunnies to mix you a dry martini, and thank God for the miracle of High Fidelity.

Concord Music Group: www.concordmusicgroup.com

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