Friday, October 15, 2010

Ray Charles' Rare Gems Rare No More

I am writing this from Nashville ( I am there until Sunday when I return to DC), and visiting the Ryman Auditorium this afternoon. Among the exhibits there is one one June Carter and Johnny Cash. Included was some photos and video clips from the television show that Johnny Cash did for two years on ABC television that included performances from the Ryman. Ray Charles was among the guests that Cash had on his show and coincidentally, a duet between Cash and Charles is the centerpiece of a new Concord album that is scheduled for release on October 26, Rare Gems, Below is a review of this release.

Rare Gems: The Undiscovered Masters” is the title of a new ray Charles release on Concord that contains, as its title suggests, previous issued recordings which come from the seventies through the nineties. From the publicity, some of these tracks were relatively stripped down to which some sweetening was added. The centerpiece of this is a duet with Johnny Cash, “Why Me, Lord?”, a Kris Kristofferson song, that was supposed to be part of a duet project that never was completed. Musically, there should be little in terms of surprises as the music here is centered in the blues/soul, country and pop fused with jazz that Charles mined throughout his legendary career.

The opening “Loves Gonna Bite You,” and the rousing big band “It Hurts To Be In Love,” are clear reminders of his blues soul roots, while “Wheel of Fortune,” which Dinah Washington (and Kay Starr) recorded in a 1952, is a more jazzy performance with strings sweetening the big band setting. “I’m Gonna Keep On Singin’,” with electric piano and guitar sounds sounds like an 80s or 90s recording with some spoken breaks in the number. “There'll Be Some Changes Made,” is usually taken at a brisk tempo, while Charles transforms it into a slow blues here, with plenty of greasy organ and solid blues guitar (could that be that Tony Matthews at the original session), with Charles apparently imitating guitar with his electric piano before the actual guitarist enters with a solid solo. The groove of “Isn’t It Wonderful,” sounds not far from what Billy Preston, who had an important association with Charles might have recorded, and again more bluesy guitar can be heard here. “I Don’t Want No One But You,” is one of several tracks with synthesized horns, in the backing, with Charles singing how much he needs his lady, and come back and Ray will make it right in a typical fashion. Charles’ rendition of Hank Cochran’s “A Little Bitty Tear,” is a country-flavored rendition of a number that may sound familiar when one hears it, and the country flavor continues on “She’s Gone,” that suggests some of Jerry Lee Lewis’ country recordings of the seventies. The duet with Cash, “Why Me, Lord,” is only a taste of what might have been if the duet album by Cash & Charles had ever been completed. Cash takes the lead on singing this gospel number with Charles joining in on the choruses and taking an electric piano solo.

There is nothing that might suggest they were scraping the bottom of the vaults simply to release unissued material. The music here will not harm Charles’ reputation. In contrary, the music on this is quite good. One expects that Charles’ many fans will be delighted by these previously unissued recordings.

For purposes of FTC regulations, this was provided by a publicity form for Concord Records.

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