Here’s another fine re-release by the folks at Concord Music Group. This collection is a bit of a musical road map as Brother Ray travels from state to state and burgh to burgh — musically, that is. The CD is pretty strong throughout, although I must confess I strongly prefer The Raeletts to the Anita Kerr Singers when it comes to the backing vocal choruses. That’s pretty much a no brainer if you’re under the age of 85.
There are a couple of flat tires along the way - most notably Deep in the Heart of Texas and Blue Hawaii. Ray often had the ability to elevate cheesy material with his magical interpretive prowess, yet these 2 cuts are really hard to sit through. The latter is just too closely identified with Elvis, while Texas is a toss away novelty romp and that should have been tossed away … period.
The bonus tracks are OK and include a swinging version of Bill Monroe’s Blue Moon of Kentucky. The Beatles’ The Long and Winding Road is awkward at best and John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads is an obvious mistep. All in all the hits outweigh the misses, making this a pretty enjoyable road trip with one of the great vocal stylists of our time – or any time for that matter. Buckle up and hit the gas pedal!
Here are some additional notes from the product description …
When Ray Charles left Atlantic Records for ABC-Paramount, his first move was to gather up a dozen vintage songs about U.S. destinations. The resulting album, The Genius Hits the Road, in turn gave Charles his first No. 1 hit, a soulful reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind.” The album, which also contains such travel songs as “Alabamy Bound,” “California, Here I Come,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “Blue Hawaii,” marked the start of Charles’ long association with producer Sid Feller and featured band longtime accompanists saxmen David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford, plus the Raeletts.
A deluxe reissue of The Genius Hits the Road, augmented by six bonus tracks, digital re-mastering and new liner notes by Bill Dahl alongside original notes by Rick Ward.
“This was the first album we made together,” said late producer Feller. “(Ray) wanted to do songs either about states or cities. A lot of the material he knew himself. He’d give me some titles and then check through catalogs and publishers for other ones that had names of cities or states.”
The Genius Hits the Road was recorded in two lengthy New York recording sessions in March 1960. “Georgia On My Mind” was first on the evening’s agenda. The song’s lyricist Stuart Gorrell actually found his inspiration in Carmichael’s sister Georgia rather than the state, but the words pay tribute to either. It was Charles’ first No. 1 hit, earning him two of four Grammys that year. The album also contained a version of Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger’s “Blue Hawaii,” recorded originally for the 1937 movie Waikiki Wedding starring Bing Crosby. A year after Charles recorded it, the song became the title track to a 1961 Elvis Presley film.
The 12 songs of The Genius Hits the Road were by no means the only travel tunes Charles recorded in his ABC-Paramount tenure. The expanded edition reissue adds six more. The best known of these is Charles’ No. 1 version of Percy Mayfield’s “Hit the Road Jack,” which joins Les Brown’s “Sentimental Journey,” Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” Paul McCartney’s “Long and Winding Road,” John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and Charles’ own “I Was on Georgia Time.”
The Genius Hits the Road vaulted to No. 9 on Billboard’s pop charts during a 50-week run that began in October 1960. But this particular road was just the beginning of a new journey for Brother Ray.