Ray Charles

Brother Ray's Blues

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Ray Charles seemed to emerge fully formed out of nowhere when he signed with Atlantic Records in 1955, but in fact, he had been gigging around the somewhat unlikely environs of Seattle, WA, since 1947. The posthumous cash-in Brother Ray's Blues collects some radio transcriptions and rare single sides from Charles' Seattle era. Bear in mind, first off, that these 12 songs sound very little like the Ray Charles most folks are familiar with: this isn't soul, or for the most part even R&B, but a sort of mainstream pop take on jump blues and bop. On songs like "Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand," Charles has a smallish big band behind him, while others are cool small-combo takes like "Alone in the City," a ballad that features some particularly nice Joe Pass-style guitar. Also, the sound quality, it must be said, is pretty abysmal throughout. However, come on, it's Ray Charles. Even when the material is weak, as it rarely is (the hackneyed "Rockin' Chair Blues" is probably the worst offender), Charles is in fine voice throughout, usually featuring a much more relaxed and less histrionic style than he eventually made famous. (Heck, on the big band "They're Crazy About Me," he sounds like Nat King Cole!) Don't expect much, and remember the warning about sound quality, but this is an often fascinating look at an underexposed part of Ray Charles' life.

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