Album Review

Ray Charles - Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

Ray Charles

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

ABC-Paramount

Release Date: April 16th, 1962

Words by: Whaley Big Jesus
August 19th, 1962

8.8

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A move into the country and western/bigband genres was hardly a safe move for Ray Charles to make in 1962. The world of popular music was increasingly becoming snowed under with plucky rock and rollers, bad boy crooners, soulsters, and a rising tidal wave of folky ragamuffins was also teetering on the horizon. As such, for Ray Charles to release a record that belonged to what many record execs at the time would have considered an almost bygone era, was indeed a bold step to take and one that flew in the face of a new, emerging popular culture.

After all, Ray Charles was largely responsible for the arrival of soul music onto the chart-topping stage, and he was potentially the greatest symbol of pop-stardom and commercial success amongst the black music community at the time – why would he then decide to produce a record that was stylistically bound to the 1950's instead of moving with the times? Furthermore, a record that aligned itself with the most conservative genre out there: country and western?

As much as Ray Charles had been educated and groomed on the sounds of jazz and gospel music, he had also looked to country and western for his inspiration, particularly lyrically. The narratives' as strung together in country music were (as Ray saw them) the greatest vehicles for expressing perhaps the widest spectrum of emotion vocally, and it is this factor that truly drives the sound and feeling behind Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

Ray Charles would sound special singing the jingle for a cereal commercial, his voice is simply one in a million, and on this record he uses it to full capacity, no more so than on the second track, 'you don't know me'. He drives this melancholic ballad with a voice that is both sombre and soulful, and he picks up the vocal intensity at all the right times to maximise the impact of the lyric. Sure, the orchestral backing adds a fine layer of texture to this tune (and the record all around), but it is Charles' voice that takes centre stage and hammers home the intangible quality of a major talent.

It is an interesting dynamic that exists between the first two tunes on this record, 'bye bye love' and 'you don't know me'. A changing of the guard if you will. 'Bye bye love' kicks along with the unrelenting pulse that had formed the basis of Ray's earlier hit records when signed to Atlantic. Then 'you don't know me', and many of the subsequent tracks, present Ray's move into more smooth sailing territory where the ballad reigns supreme.

If one criticism could be made, it would be that on occasion this record tends to switch into autopilot mode, bringing the undesirable "easy-listening" genre to the table. Tunes like, 'I love you so much it hurts' and 'born to lose' fall victim to this languid quality, momentarily putting a halt to the power of the album. At fifteen tracks in length (CD reissue version), the argument could definitely be made for cutting these numbers lose in order to direct the attention more fully toward classics like, 'I can't stop loving you' and 'that lucky old sun(just rolls around heaven)'.

All in all though, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is arguably Ray Charles' strongest full length album. It sees Charles mould his inherently soulful style into his own brand of country music, and as such, it delivers some of these traditional ballads to the very peak of their potential.

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