Concord continues its reissue program of Ray Charles post-Atlantic catalog with the release of Message From the People, an album with a theme of calling for an end to racial and other social division, and making this country better.
Opening with the classic Lift Every Voice and Sing, he follows it with Seems Like Gotta Do Wrong, with its message that it seems Ray has to do wrong before the outside society notices him and then Heaven Help Us All, with its plea to heaven to help the black man if he struggles one more day, help the white man if he turns his back away, and help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl, heaven help us all. The title, There’ll Be No Peace Without All Men As One, is self-explanatory, while Hey Mister, is a song noting the social and status divisions existing.
The tone of the album changes on what was the second half of this album when it was first released which includes Ray distinctive interpretations of celebrated songs such Look What Have Done to My Song, Ma, as well as the reflective Abraham, Martin and John, and John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. The interpretation of this latter number is stunningly original. This celebration of the country is followed by Charles uptown transformation of a Silas Hogan swamp blues, Every Saturday Night. Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful, that closes the album is so well known that any comment on it is superfluous. Arrangements by Quincy Jones, Sid Feller and Mike Post certainly play a major role in the stunning performances here, and one can hear something new in these performances with repeated listening.
Over thirty-five years after its initial release, the reissue of Message From the People, should hopefully help establish the entire album, not simply the closing tune, as an American classic.
This review originally appeared in the September 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 320) and my review copy was provided by a publicist for the label.