Ray Charles

Ray Charles [Atlantic]

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One of the first handful of LPs issued by Atlantic, Ray Charles (later retitled Hallelujah I Love Her So) is a bona fide classic of its genre. Weighted about three to one in favor of Charles' own compositions, its raison d'etre was the hits "Hallelujah I Love Her So" and the pounding, soaring "Ain't That Love," which opens the LP. As with other Atlantic albums of the period, its content was determined more by Charles' recent singles than by a real plan for the LP, but even within those limitations it's an amazingly subtle record. Charles does just as well with his interpretations of others' work, most notably the ominous, gospel-focused rendition of "Sinner's Prayer" (which offers a virtuoso piano performance, and comes courtesy of the pen of Charles' former mentor Lowell Fulson) and Henry Glover's wrenching ballad "Drown in My Own Tears," which is topped out on each verse by a gorgeous chorus. "Funny (But I Still Love You)" offers a guitar break played in such an understated fashion that it almost doesn't seem so much a part of R&B as it was usually being offered in 1957 as it does a part of Charles' early career output. The second side of the LP is even better, opening with the title track, a number that is almost too ubiquitous in its various cover versions -- the original has a mix of urgency and playfulness that's absolutely bracing, and the album carries this mood forward with "Mess Around," an Ahmet Ertegun-authored piano- and sax-driven romp with Charles at his most ebullient as a singer. "This Little Girl of Mine" offers him in a surprisingly light, almost acrobatic vocal mode, while "Greenbacks" is a knowing, clever cautionary narrative that is almost a throwback to 1940s-style R&B. "Don't You Know" is as salacious a piece of R&B as one was likely to hear in 1957, and "I Got a Woman" closes the record out on a pounding, driving note. The original album suffered from deficient sound and most reissues left a lot to be desired, but in 2003 WEA International reissued it (as Hallelujah I Love Her So) in a 24-bit remastered version in a gatefold format that is a treat to the ear and runs circles around prior reissues.

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