Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music

Ray Charles

ABC Paramount, 1962

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


A black artist recording an album of country songs that spends over two months at number one on the pop charts -- what are the chances?

Ray Charles, blind since the age of seven, grew up playing the piano. He signed with the Atlantic Label in 1952 and quickly established himself as one of the leading rhythm and blues artists of the day, and such hits of his as “What’d I Say” managed to cross over to the mostly white pop charts in an era in which this rarely happened.

In 1959, the ABC Paramount label made Charles an offer he could not refuse and that Atlantic could not match: Ray Charles received $50,000 up front, a percentage of his sales, and the development of his own Tangerine label. While this was a remarkable offer in 1959, Ray Charles sold himself short. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ray Charles would become a hit making machine: “Georgia On My Mind” (1960) and “Hit The Road Jack” (1961) would both reach number one and sell over a million copies, paving the way for the mainstreaming of what would become known as soul music.

It was in 1962, however, that Ray Charles would reach the zenith of his creativity and commercial appeal. His choice to cover an album’s worth of country songs seemed an odd one; country music, like rhythm and blues, was a step-child on the pop charts. Ray Charles would prove that a good song still remains a good song when sung by a great singer. He brought his gospel style vocals to these songs, added some brass, a different cadence and beat here and there, and included some female background vocals and quickly sold over two million albums. The album, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, would spend an unprecedented fourteen weeks at the top of the pop charts.

This disc is highlighted by the hits “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Don’t Know Me,” and today these songs are synonymous with the Ray Charles sound.

His interpretation of the two Jimmie Davis tunes, “Worried Man” and “It Makes No Difference,” are brilliant. He would replace the vocal country twang of the originals with his smooth, soulful style and move them completely out of the country and western tradition of the day. The top ten hit “You Don’t Know Me” and the Everly Brothers “Bye Bye Love” are slowed down a bit and emerge as smooth, up-tempo ballads. If you have not heard Ray Charles sing “Hey Good Looking,” then you are in for a treat.

Today, several years after his death, Ray Charles is recognized as an American icon and musical genius. What has been lost is the fact that despite being an excellent and creative album, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music was an important album to American culture. It crossed not only musical boundaries but social and cultural boundaries as well. He made a conscious decision to integrate musical styles long before other forms of integration were accepted or even attempted in our country. For that reason alone, this album was and remains a milestone.

Rating: A

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© 2008 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of ABC Paramount, and is used for informational purposes only.