Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another exploration into one of the so-called Top 1000 albums of all time. It’s Ray Charles, who I am at least aware of though never considered myself a fan or ever felt any desire to seek out his work, influential as that work may have been. Most of you will know that I’m not a Jazz guy – I’m not a Maths guy either, but I would query whether Genius + Soul actually = Jazz. Probably more accurately, it would add up to Geniouls. Man I’m bored.
What Do I Know About Ray Charles: Singer, pianist, blues, soul, and jazz man. Blind. Is in The Blues Brothers. The subject of Ray, a somewhat overrated but enjoyable movie.
What Do I Know About Genius + Soul = Jazz: It’s an album by Ray Charles.
From The Heart kicks us off and immediately fills me with dread because it has all the hallmarks of Big Band Swing – possibly my least favourite genre. I never have much to say about this sort of music – it either completely turns me off in the worst cases, or in the best cases makes of think of Tom & Jerry. This is more on the Tom & Jerry side. It certainly moves, there’s a near wall of sound barrage of brass, and it’s clear the guys can play. But none of it speaks to me in any way, doesn’t leave me with any melodies to recall, doesn’t make me want to move, doesn’t inspire my musical curiosity or emotional intellect.
I’ve Got News For You has a brief Blues swagger to its opening, brash percussion in places, and we actually get some vocals. The vocals live up to the mythos – pained, sexy, smooth and a little shake of threat. The instrumentation, particularly the bass and brass, are par for the course and may as well not be there, but the organ stuff is great. I’ll give the band and the production credit for sounding absolutely huge – this must have blasted out windows back in the day.
Moanin’ has more life as an instrumental, feels more dirty, sensual, at least in its opening salvo. It continues to grow into your standard Big Band Balls – various brass parps which do nothing for me. It’s the sassy, unhinged organ I want more of, or at least the solo horn squeals. The backing is, sad to say just noise.
Let’s Go lives up to its name, a breathless hurrah of noise, a spinning frenzy with more of that zany organ playing. You almost can’t call it playing because it’s right on the edge of being tuneless – the speed, like a cliched Power Metal solo, feeling like its smashing notes randomly without any care for articulation or phrasing. But sometimes all you need is speed, and I’m sure I’m discrediting its accuracy. It’s shit, melodically, but it’s all about getting people on their feet and sweating.
One Mint Julep takes the speed down a few notches and adds in a few choice motifs – sassy again, almost samba like, but hardly memorable. It reminds me of The Bottom theme tune.
I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town is pure Tom & Jerry – it sounds exactly like any scene where there’s a girl cat or mouse and Tom or Jerry feel a dose of the horn coming on. More subdued vocals and organ this time around. Feels like the album has said everything it possibly can.
Stompin’ Room Only opens like an old TV Game Show or Variety Show episode – if I close my eyes I can see the horrible title screen followed by some white guy in suit come bowling out onto stage to rapturous applause. It doesn’t give me the dancing/shagging/fighting vibes which the title suggests. More parping at this point. Getting bored of it. It goes on a whack too.
Mister C is more of the same – mid paced parping, static bass, whispered percussion, no melodies to latch on too. If the last track felt long, this one actually is. Well, it’s only four and a half minutes, but when you consider a three minute track to be torturous, anything longer is a nightmare. The madcap organ comes in too late for me to care, and it’s not as furious as in earlier tracks.
Strike Up The Band is more fun, faster, more interesting organ again. But it does nothing that earlier tracks didn’t do. Nice racing finish though.
Birth Of The Blues closes us out, the longest track on the album, annoyingly. It’s more Soul, more Jazz than Blues to me, but I’m not huge on any of those genres. Brass based music just leaves me cold and this is 90% brass.
What Did I Learn: That Ray could play pretty quickly at times. That I still don’t like this kind of music.
Should It Be In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: It’s a no from me. I mean, if you’re on a quest to absolutely include at least one album from every sub genre or somehow show-horn every influential performer of the 20th Century, then sure, you need to find something Big Band, something Ray Charles. Is this the bet thing Ray Charles ever did? If so, I’m not impressed. Some snazzy organ playing, but that never felt like the centrepiece. And I think only two tracks had vocals? I have no doubt people out there went wild for this back then, and it probably has its vociferous supporters now, but it’s mostly forgettable for me – at best mildly interesting in places while listening, some talent on show – at worst, painful and had me reaching for the stop button in multiple places.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!