The Birth of Soul 1The Birth of Soul 2The Birth of Soul 3

 

Brother Ray.  I can’t say I really listened to much Ray Charles growing up.  I mean, I knew who he was…he was that older blind piano guy.  The one who wasn’t Stevie Wonder.  Well, he was similar to Stevie Wonder…they both had appearances on Sesame Street.  And they both wore sunglasses.  But Stevie was younger and had the braids.  Ray Charles was older and was the guy in the Pepsi commercials.  That’s right, you got the right one baby, uh-huh.

So fast forward to 2005, and I was starting my annual tradition of trying to see all the movies that were nominated for major Oscars…you know, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, etc.  And that year a biopic called “Ray”, starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, was nominated in several categories, including the three big ones listed above.  The movie had been out for awhile by the time I saw it, but I remember going to the dollar theater at Carriage Place and just being memorized by Jamie Foxx’s performance as Brother Ray.  I mean, here was a guy I had only seen in bad comedies and TV sketch shows, and here he was playing one of the most iconic musicians of all time and absolutely killing it.  It was one of those rare performances in a biopic where you forget it’s an actor and not the real person, and Jamie Foxx deservedly won the Best Actor category that year.

Well, that movie introduced me to the world and music of Ray Charles.  I had never known about the controversy he stirred in the music community, especially among the gospel musicians, when he started to mix gospel music sounds and structures with secular blues and jazz.  Many people consider that mixture to be the actual birth of soul music, and this 3-disc boxset (which I snagged on Ebay for $27.00) collects all of Ray Charles’ early work with Atlantic Records (before he moved to ABC-Paramount Records and decided to become a country crossover artist).  And there is definitely a progression  in his sound across the three discs.  This first disc is very bluesy, and his voice sounds a lot younger and smoother.  On the second disc, the tempos speed up, he develops that trademark yowl, and his voice becomes more recognizable as Ray Charles.  By the third disc, the sound has finally developed into the reeling, rocking R&B/soul fusion that made him famous.  Yet, even though the sound progresses from disc to disc, one thing present on all three is an element of musical sophistication that many early recordings lack.  It seems from the very beginning, Ray Charles was arranging his band into a finely tuned, highly sensitive musical unit, and it shows throughout this boxset.  Every small nuance of Ray Charles’ singing or piano playing is reflected by his band, which makes this music that much better and definitely worth a listen.

The Birth of Soul Box Set

 

Other lists: “What’d I Say” is #10 and “I Got a Woman” is #239 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Ray Charles is also ranked #2 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #10 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was dropped one spot from its original position on the 2003 list due to the rise of “Meet the Beatles!”.

My favorite track: “It Should Have Been Me”

Honorable mention: “I Got a Woman”

Quote: “So if you want to have fun in this man’s land, let Lincoln and Jackson start shaking hands”

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