Like most of those popular singers who peaked in the period just before rock & roll emerged as a dominant force in music, Johnnie Ray has been neglected -- his own record label, Columbia, has issued a few hits compilations in varying degrees of completeness, which seems to be mostly what the U.S. market will support. But Germany's Bear Family Records has stepped out in front with a string of releases of Ray's catalog that started with this single CD and culminated with a similarly named box set. This 30-song collection has surprisingly little overlap with Columbia's 16 Most Requested Songs, so those already owning the latter will not have to concern themselves too deeply with that issue. Not all of the hits are here, by any means, but many of Ray's most interesting single sides are present, along with two previously unissued tracks. The sound is amazing, given the limited fidelity of many Columbia releases dating from across the same period, and anyone with doubts about Ray's versatility will get a first-hand look at his R&B and jazz influences, albeit not necessarily in their most commercially successful forms, and also the raw power of his voice -- additionally, numbers such as "Yes, Tonight Josephine" show how Ray did, indeed, keep himself competitive in the rock & roll era; it might not have the beat, but Ray's singing had the kind of edge that characterized some of the better pop-style efforts in that direction of the period. Also included are duets that he cut with Frankie Laine and Doris Day. The collection is well-annotated by Peter Grendysa, who gives a superb account of Ray's overall career. The only complaint one might have over the material is the producers' failure to follow even a minimal chronological order -- the songs jump all over the map across nine years of recording, which makes it a great showcase for Ray's range and depth, if not the evolution of his career and sound.
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