Life at 33 1/3: Ray going country (again)

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Ray Charles: Wish You Were Here Tonight (CBS)

*From the vaults of Carl Meyer, an original album review written in February 1983.*

The rhythm & blues and soul-giant Ray Charles never made any secret of his love for country music.  As early as 1962 he annoyed and shocked both his own fans and country & western-fanatics – for different reasons – with the albums “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” (volumes 1 and 2), topping the pop charts all over the world with his exquisite version of Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You”.

Charles turned 52 last year, and recently signed with Columbia Records (CBS), and wouldn’t you know, he chose to start his new engagement with an album that although recorded in L.A., sounds 100% like pure Nashville – steel guitar, fiddles, mandolin, piano, female voices, a muted orchestra, the works.  Both elegant and restrained, Ray prefers understatements, both when it comes to the arrangements and his own way of singing.

“Ain’t Your Memory Got No Pride At All” is a fine example of how Ray cleverly places his black heritage into the all-white setting.  The musicians establish a smooth western-groove, perfect for the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, but the vocal attack is a huge holler, bringing the song closer to gospel.

By avoiding the more pompous vices of modern country music, Ray sometimes gets a chance to deliver in a narrative style reminiscent of Randy Newman (“I Wish You Were Here Tonight” is a good example).  The downside is that the musicians end up playing second fiddle to Ray most of the time, they are good, but they don’t add anything to the performances.

The selection of songs is a bit uneven as well, “Let Your Love Flow” being the worst of the lot (how could he?).  On the other hand we get the two aforementioned plus “I Don’t Want No Stranger Sleepin’ In My Bed” and “You’ve Got The Longest Leaving Act In Town” (what a great title!), which probably will end up on my top 10 country-recordings of 1983.

Released: January 1983

Produced by: Ray Charles

Contents: 3/4 Time/I Wish You Were Here Tonight/Ain’t Your Memory Got No Pride At All/Born To Love Me/I Don’t Want No Stranger Sleepin’ In My Bed/Let Your Love Flow/You Feel Good All Over/ String Bean/You’ve Got The Longest Leaving Act In Town/Shakin’ Your Head