Preview: Ray Charles back in mono

Following John Coltrane The Atlantic Years In Mono, Warner release another mono set, focusing on "The Genius" Ray Charles across seven LPs in high-quality vinyl

One of the legends of popular music, Ray Charles (pictured right) earned the nickname “Genius” for recording countless jazz, country, R&B and pop masterpieces during a career that spanned seven decades. Rhino will celebrate what would have been Brother Ray’s 86th birthday on 23 September, with a new vinyl boxed set that features mono mixes of the seven solo studio albums he recorded for Atlantic Records.

Of the mono format, Derek Ansell, reviewing Warner's mono Coltrane set in Jazz Journal, August 2016, said: "This is the way most of us heard them in 1959-1961. Many jazz enthusiasts swear by the superior quality of the mono originals, with the crisp horns and strong, firm bass placed right in front of you. At that time stereo was in its infancy; few sound engineers were comfortable with it and even fewer could get a good balance. Rudy Van Gelder famously asked if he could 'do them all in mono' when assigned to remastering all the classic 50s & 60s Blue Notes from ’57-65. Blue Note said 'No!' To my ears Atlantic and Van Gelder were right".

Included in this new collection are Ray Charles (1957), The Great Ray Charles (1957), Yes, Indeed! (1958), What’d I Say (1959), The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959), The Genius After Hours (1961), and The Genius Sings The Blues (1961). The albums have been fully remastered from the original mono analog tapes, echoing the experience of the era when most fans listened to music on record players, jukeboxes and radios that played music monaurally.

All seven albums are pressed on high-quality 180-gram vinyl, packaged in sleeves that replicate the original releases in exacting detail and presented together in an elegant hardbound box. The set includes a perfect-bound booklet with period photos by Atlantic’s in-house photographer at the time, Lee Friedlander, and liner notes by Ray Charles biographer and Grammy-winning writer David Ritz.

The music included in Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years In Mono begins with Charles’ self-titled Atlantic debut from 1957 which gathers the No.1 R&B hit singles I’ve Got A Woman, A Fool For You, Maryann and Drown In My Own Tears. The follow-up, The Great Ray Charles, arrived just a few months later. It was the artist’s first jazz album and featured The Ray, a song written by his close friend Quincy Jones. On the 1958 album Yes Indeed!, Charles began to use new eight-track technology to record memorable songs like Blackjack, Lonely Avenue and Leave My Woman Alone.

Charles reached an even wider audience in 1959 with two major hit albums: What’d I Say and The Genius of Ray Charles. The title track for What'd I Say became his first Top 10 pop hit and his first gold record, with airplay on both R&B and mainstream radio stations. Rolling Stone ranked it as No.10 on its 500 Greatest Rock and Roll Songs of All-Time. The Genius Of Ray Charles - which won the Grammy for Best Vocal Performance: Album - features full orchestral backing on It Had To Be You and Come Rain Or Come Shine, as well as Let The Good Times Roll which won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance.

The Genius After Hours includes unused songs from the 1956 sessions that yielded The Great Ray Charles, like Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Charlesville. The final album in the series, The Genius Sings The Blues, is a compilation of songs recorded throughout the artist’s first two years at Atlantic and showcases his artistic development on standout tracks like (Night Time) Is The Right Time and I’m Movin’ On.

Bruce Lindsay

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