Ray Charles

Ray Charles Sings for America

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The theme of this collection is, in large part, songs of patriotism, about specific American places, or testaments to the American spirit. Still, you do get the sense that the concept's rather vague, or at least has been applied pretty liberally in order to snag 20 songs that could fill up a collection to appeal to the national mood at the time of its release (about a year after September 2001). "Let It Be" and "Imagine," for instance, are classic songs, but (even leaving aside that they were written by Englishmen) how exactly do they embody the American character? Likewise, "That Lucky Old Sun" and "Over the Rainbow" might be venerated American songs, but they doesn't plug into a specifically American viewpoint as readily as, for instance, "New York's My Home" or even his cover of "Abraham, Martin and John." It's better to treat this as something of a ride through Ray Charles' take on Americana, which goes through country music, popular standards, gospel, covers of rock hits, and not a whole lot of the hard-driving soul for which he's most esteemed. It's an erratic set, spanning the early '60s to the inevitable 2001-2002 re-recording of "God Bless America," featuring Slash and Billy Preston, with six of the songs (including the equally inevitable "America the Beautiful") hailing from his 1972 album A Message From the People. Some of it's excellent, like "New York's My Home," the cover of Percy Mayfield's "The Danger Zone," and "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny"; some of it's fair; and the 1970s material, which comprises the bulk of the disc, too often tends toward the overly sentimental in both song selection and production.

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