Ray Charles

Blues Is My Middle Name [King Jazz]

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The liner notes admit few details about the origins of these dozen songs, except to say that it's a "largely, previously unreleased selection of blues flavored tracks," and that they were recorded during Charles' stint at the independent Warwick imprint before he forged that fruitful relationship with Atlantic Records. It's certain that these do come from the early, pre-Atlantic years of Charles' career, even though about half of the titles appear on pre-Atlantic Charles compilations like The Birth of a Legend and Complete Swing Time & Down Beat Recordings 1949-1952. Charles' early discography is murky enough that it may be that even Ray Charles biographers couldn't say for sure which of these selections have never before appeared anywhere. Regardless, it's a slice of his early sessions, when he was trying out various blends of swing jazz, R&B balladry, and jump blues, though he had yet to find the raw soulful rock/R&B sound that launched him to greatness at Atlantic. It suffers mostly in comparison to his famous work; on its own merits it's decent, if derivative and erratic, formative R&B. At times there are strong hints at the grittiness that would flavor his classic work, as on "I'm Gonna Drown (Misery in My Heart)," "Hey Now," and the up-tempo, raucous "Kissa Me Baby." At other times it's too polite jazz-blues, with his voice almost unrecognizably thin and restrained.

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