Ray Charles’ 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music is hailed in all corners as a masterpiece, but it leaves me feeling oddly unsatisfied. Here Charles covers a broad range of country classics – including three songs by Hank Williams – and performs with an orchestra and backup singers. Is it genius? Is it dated? Perhaps a bit of both…
THUMBS UP: Ray Charles earned the nickname ‘Genius’ and anyone achieving his level of artistic greatness should be allowed carte blanche to follow their musical whims (Sinatra and Dylan jump to mind). The orchestral arrangements and angelic backup singers used here might not track well to modern ears, but the Genius still shines through. ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is one of his finest recordings in a career full of great ones, and hearing him sing “I was blind but now I see” on ‘Careless Love’ is a transcendent, goosebump-inducing moment. With this batch of country songs, Charles proved that he could take any type of song and coin a new and better version – the rarest mark of musical talent.
THUMBS DOWN: I love Ray Charles’ music, and I thoroughly enjoy listening to him play piano and sing – and therein lies my fundamental problem with Modern Sounds…. The Genius is buried here beneath an avalanche of strings and spends just slightly more time singing than the canned backup singers that seem to hover over his shoulder. This album was important in Charles’ career, because it expanded the scope of his music and the size of his audience, but those footnotes don’t make me want to pull it off the shelf for a listen. To my ears, it doesn’t hold a candle to the records he made for Atlantic in the late 50’s. That music is much less polished and crossover-friendly than Modern Sounds…, but it’s got twice the heart and soul.
Listen: You Win Again
[Who the f— am I to question the music of Ray Charles?? Just a guy who’s deeply perplexed by the idea of country music being played by an orchestra. Please unfog my mind with your illuminating and insightful comments…]