Please do yourself a favor and pick this one up. The reissue includes both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 on one CD. It includes some of my favorite Charles interpretations including his goosed up take of The Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love” and Don Gibson’s timeless “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” I also love the slow, slinky version of “You Are My Sunshine.” Ray and the girls take that tune to church and the results are indeed soul stirring.
Although it may have shocked some people at the time, Ray Charles’s fascination with country and western music was anything but an overnight development.
As a child in Florida, he listened to the Grand Ole Opry’s radio broadcasts that wafted through Southern skies on Saturday evenings. In his late teens, Charles spent several months in Tampa playing piano with a hillbilly band, the Florida Playboys. At an early Atlantic Records rehearsal, he tried Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Waltz” on for size. One of his last hit Atlantic singles in 1959 was a steel guitar–laced cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”
Thus, his 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its encore Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume 2 represented the culmination of a lifelong love affair rather than a producer’s convenient way to expand Brother Ray’s LP catalog.
“That was strictly his idea, something that he wanted to do,” confirmed his chief tenor saxophone soloist, the late David “Fathead” Newman.
“He knew what he wanted,” said his late A&R director at ABC-Paramount Records, Sid Feller. “The projects were always his own creation.”
Since joining ABC’s roster in late 1959 after permanently altering the rhythm and blues landscape at Atlantic by mixing blues and gospel into a groundbreaking recipe that sired soul, those projects had included albums devoted to songs about destinations (Genius Hits the Road) and names of women (Dedicated to You). Charles had been contemplating an LP of country chestnuts for years, so to him it wasn’t a radical concept. What was earth shattering was the way Ray redefined each song. His sanctified voice would never be mistaken for that of Ernest Tubb or Webb Pierce, and there was a huge difference between traditional country fiddles and the cosmopolitan strings gracing these two albums. When Ray unleashed the roaring horn section from his recently formed big band, those country evergreens swung like never before.
Having made countless new country converts by giving these 24 songs a soul-steeped urban dimension, Charles would continue to dip into the C&W songbook. He covered Johnny Cash’s hit “Busted” to Grammy-winning acclaim in 1963, and his remakes of Buck Owens’s “Crying Time” and “Together Again” hit during the mid-’60s. Then again, Ray’s unique vocal interpretations inevitably made any song from any genre entirely his own.
“He created more things with his voice than any other singer I ever knew in my life, or ever heard of,” said Feller. “To me, creating itself is the genius part.” That genius permeates these two volumes of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.