Ray Price

Burning Memories/Touch My Heart

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The Audium reissue of these two Columbia albums by country great Ray Price is a godsend. Burning Memories, from 1964, is the first recording Price employed the liberal use of strings on; the album brought him the timeless hits "Release Me," the title track, and "Make the World Go Away." This was a blatant attempt, two years in the making, to cross over into the pop world for Price, and it worked. While country critics were scathing and many of the genre's fans were wondering is he had sold out, Price's profile was on the rise with mainstream pop music consumers. Burning Memories was a gamble that paid off big-time, though some concessions were made initially, and Touch My Heart from 1966 was one of them. Johnny Paycheck, a former bandmember of Price's, wrote the title track; it showcased Price straddling the honky tonk and pop worlds with more balance. Strings were not as prevalent as fiddles, and the steel guitar made a big-time return to the center of the Price sound. But the songs were something else again; they could be interpreted either way. Hard country examples were Merle Haggard's "Swinging Doors" and Hank Cochran's "I Lie a Lot," with the title track and Dallas Frazier's "There Goes My Everything" showcasing the new balladic style with a rough-hewn grace and silky aplomb, making for the last country rave-up in Price's catalog until the late '80s. Here are 23 tracks -- presenting the latter album first -- that offer an astonishing portrait of an artist in transition. The sound is good if not excellent, and the liner notes by Nick Shaffran offer an inside portrait of the recording sessions. This is the only way to get either of these albums on CD, and is priced right to move.

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