Ray Charles - The Genius of Ray Charles
Apr 8, 2020
The History of the Albums - n° 121

[I invite you to read my previous review on the album Ray Charles - Ray Charles (1956), in order to understand his life, his beginnings and this one. You will also find a list of R&B albums I reviewed in the links below]. Ray Charles is an artist that I really appreciate a lot, so it was very difficult for me to select the right album to review since the release of his first album (or compilation) "Ray Charles", because there are always a lot of good things whatever the project. However, I decided to make my choice on The Genius of Ray Charles. To put it in context, when the year 1957 began, Ray Charles was already a star with 4 number 1 Billboard R&B numbers, not forgetting for me the most important thing is that he had laid the R&B foundations, extremely important for the birth of soul music, which would really make its appearance in the 60s. Today, although there is still a difference in "sound", Ray Charles' music is still relevant today and above all it is incorporated more or less in all R&B artists today (and sometimes other genres). What I mean by this is that the legacy and impact it has had will remain forever.

Yet in the midst of his success, Ray Charles showed that he always put the love of music before the commercial aspect. In 1957, Ray Charles released his first real album, The Great Ray Charles, which he built up little by little over a few sessions in 1956. It had the particularity of being a jazz album, specifically bebop and entirely instrumental. An idea that still divides opinions today. Personally, it's obvious that it's not a classical jazz album that we can compare, but in my opinion, besides the fact that the intention was great, this album remains an excellent one. Ray's pianist talents have always been sensational, and even without vocals his music remains very emotional. Despite a weak commercial success for The Great Ray Charles, Ray continued to do what he wanted to do, working with vibraphonist Milt Jackson on a collaborative Soul Brothers album, again 100% instrumental. The advantage was that Ray Charles continued to benefit from his previous hit singles to stay on top, although 1957 was a much less expensive year in terms of success. Anyway, Ray Charles shows us again through a hard-bop work that he is a surprising and fascinating musician. Finally the sur reality of the business will catch up with him anyway, Soul Brothers was conceived on 2 sessions spaced from the end of 1957 to the spring of 1958, which is also explained by the fact that he probably had to work on other singles in order to be able to ensure the minimum commercially speaking. Besides, his label Atlantic will release Yes Indeed! at the end of 1958, which will compile the released singles, but which will remain more anecdotal than qualitative!

Ray Charles preferred to work on atypical projects/opportunities, rather than to deliver us a real R&B studio album, letting his label release compilations, moreover it will be necessary to wait until the 60s to have one. I must say I really respect his vision, and how he built his early career, especially as he surprises us from project to project. In addition to commercial success, popular success, Ray had acquired an excellent reputation among his peers in the world of R&B, Jazz and traditional pop, which gave him access to many privileges. In July 1958, he participates in the Newport Jazz Festival and offers us a monumental live, recorded, which will be released as a LP under the name of Ray Charles at Newport at the end of 1958. I hesitated for a long time between this live and The Genius of Ray Charles for the choice of the list. In July 1959, while he was working on The Genius of Ray Charles, after long months without commercial success, Ray finds again Billboard R&B, and especially a 1st place with What'd I Say.
Against all expectations, Ray has once again taken us in the wrong direction with The Genius of Ray Charles, offering us an album of traditional pop/swing although we find some traces and an R&B soul in it. What's extraordinary is that it's still impressive even though it's in another field than his own. Conducted and arranged by the legendary (still young) Quincy Jones and accompanied by a large orchestra, which can be described as a Big Band, The Genius of Ray Charles can be considered as a concept album, because there are 2 dissociable parts, a first one very swinging, very dynamic and a second part much calmer, emotional, more romantic where the orchestration is reduced and more minimalist. Personally I always have more admiration for the second part that I find of a great beauty, composed only of ballads. Unlike all his previous projects/albums, it contains only standards and no original compositions in order to respect the customs of traditional pop. I swear it's fascinating to see how alaise he is, he's certainly not the best pop vocalist singer in history, but he's clearly an alien. The more I got into the album, the more I was surprised. It ends up with 3 fantastic songs, by the way. With The Genius of Ray Charles, not only did he pull it off, because it's all going to be a huge commercial success, but he also managed to bring this blues and soul side to give a second wind to traditional pop. This work has both broadened his fan base and influenced many Standards-style artists thereafter.

Related albums I've reviewed:
> 1956 : The Drifters – Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters
> 1957 : Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard
> 1957 : Ray Charles - Ray Charles
> 1958 : Little Richard – Little Richard
> 1958 : Screamin' Jay Hawkins - At Home with Screamin' Jay Hawkins
> 1959 : James Brown : Please Please Please
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