On The Fence: Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music


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…

Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music

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…]

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10 Responses to “On The Fence: Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music”

  1. devil dick Says:

    i own this on vinyl and it just never gets spun….

  2. heavy g Says:

    Country Music with strings? What’s next: Mandolin Metal, Goth Tuba, Xylaphone Blues, Harpsichord Funk or Yanni Does Zeppelin?

    I have no problems with experimental music as long as my lunch stays where it belongs.

  3. Jason Says:

    Your sample track is all I’ve heard, but I’m thinking it certainly falls much more on the “dated” side of the fence than it does the “timeless”.

    The feel of the backup vocals makes it sound like a Christmas album, or at least something falling in the tie-you-over-between-actual-album-releases territory.

    Just not hearing the fire I expect from his music.

    I’m going with a thumbs-down.

  4. hip Says:

    gotta go with jason’s lead on this one. it was a commercial success but today it is found in elevators and supermarkets.

  5. DK's Mom Says:

    I admire your depth and breadth of knowledge but how do you guys find so much time to listen to music? Who washes the dishes and vacuums up the cat hair at your place?

    Not bein’ judgy, just wondering.

  6. dkpresents Says:

    The TV very rarely gets turned on over here…

  7. Jo in LA Says:

    I’m not sure but maybe the fact that I was forced to watch Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw as a child kept me from throwing up in my mouth a little. It reminds me of musical variety shows of my youth…Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, etc. Minus the “cheese”, Ray is pure cream! Granted, some tracks are better than others but I think it’s a keeper.

  8. cordell Says:

    just got this in a box of free records, although i am aware of his take on eddy arnold’s “you don’t know me” as well as “you win again.” i would never call this a classic for the ages, but more of another example of a very talented guy expanding his horizons a little more.

    and to DK’s mom i say, “whoever does all that washing and vacuuming, would you please come over and clean up after my two kids while you’re at it?”

  9. DK's Mom Says:

    To Cordell: Not that I wouldn’t love to, but I’ve already got four kids to clean up after, my husband and three bossy cats!

  10. dkpresents Says:

    I just busted out a sink full of dirty dishes while listening to a Primal Scream album, so the two activities aren’t mutually exclusive…

    My good friend Arlo Chingaderas swears by Fania Records’ salsa music as the perfect soundtrack for housecleaning.

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