36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Ray Charles' seven-year tenure on Atlantic Records, represented here by his complete R&B recordings, is as musically and culturally important as Frank Sinatra's tenure on Capitol Records or Elvis Presley's on Sun Records.
Charles' music here used basic rock and roll ingridients (blues, jazz, honky-tonk, gospel interplay) to create something more adult, eloquent and sensual than anything the renowned rock n' roll pioneers created. Charles' mixing and matching of styles at first seems impure even now ("Pray with me, boys," he groans as his band dives deeper into the blues "Feelin' Sad," which he ends with a wail.) But his band (razor-sharp after hundreds of dance concerts every year) could play any style, mixing several at once, turning hits like "What'd I Say," jazz workouts like "Mess Around," ancient standards like "My Bonnie," and even his cover of Hank Snow's C&W "I'm Movin' On" into mini-revelations.
These years represent the most creative in Charles' career, before his huge Sixties hits made him an American icon. He would never be as creative and profilic as he is here, making "The Birth of Soul" THE essential purchase for fans of the singer or the R&B form.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2001
There are times when a particular string of sessions recorded by an artist for a particular label is so creatively significant that it marks not only a stylistic synthesis or breakthrough for that particular artist but also a touchstone for a whole branch of music. Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven sides for Columbia come to mind, as do Charlie Parker's Dial sessions and of course Presley's Sun sessions. The singles that Ray Charles recorded for Atlantic Records from 1952 to 1959 are similar, in that they not only mark a creative peak for Charles, but his unique mixture of elements of jazz, r&b, blues, and gospel led directly to the musical style that would be called soul. Thus the title of this collection (The Birth of Soul) is more than just jolly hyperbole but almost literally true. The brilliant synthesis didn't happen overnight, of course, and the second song here, "Roll With My Baby," sounds like an imitation of Nat King Cole. One of the pleasures of this collection is listening to him mature which he does soon enough. The singles are presented in strict chronological order with copious and easy-to-read session information. (Interesting that Connie Kay played drums on his first ten sides, and the importance of reedman David Newman to the band's sound can hardly be overstated.) Discs two and three are pure manna. It's rather startling to be reminded just how good Charles was in the fifties, arguably his most fertile and rewarding period. His years as a top-forty icon and later a soft drink pitchman have obscured his amazing earlier achievement. This well-produced package reminds us of what he SHOULD be known for. Robert Palmer's informative liner notes are another extra in a collection that does everything right---selection, sound mastering, packaging. This is the one Ray Charles set that should be considered essential to anyone interested in 20th-century American music.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2000
Prior to a couple of years ago, I never really knew what Ray Charles's backstory was. I always sort of thought of him as the guy in the Pepsi ads and in the Blues Brothers, and the singer of "I Can't Stop Loving You" - pretty good music, but also in some way uninspired or irrelevant. I was wrong. As this package shows, he was a towering genius long before Pepsi came along. He was an inspired piano player, and he could do it all - jazz, stride, R&B, New Orleans. He had a totally unique rhythmic sense, which clearly informed James Brown and other "soul" artists. Over the course of this package, you hear him shape his voice into an incredibly expressive instrument - he's great both at singing the song straight and adding subtle embellishments to the melody that are dead on perfect (and never overused). Unlike other artists, especially at the time, who were confined to niches, he wasn't afraid to take on all different kinds of styles - from jump blues ("It Could Have Been Me" or "Greenbacks") to New Orleans ("Mary Ann") to blues ("Hard Times" or "What Will I Do") to numbers that mix them all up with jazz and gospel, like "What'd I Say?" or "Talkin' About You." He put together a great band that could play hard-core jazz with as much facility as R & B (Check out his band on his saxophonist David Newman's jazz albums). And finally, it seems to me that he used the studio in innovative ways long before many other artists - like on "What Kind of Man Are You" and "I'm Movin' On." And while his songwriting isn't always brilliant, it is at least always very strong, and he has a good ear for cover tunes that suit him well. Any one of these strengths alone would qualify him as great, but he's rightly called "The Genius" for putting all these things into one package. Highly recommended.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2004
A lot of people like Ray Charles for a lot of reasons. This collection is why I love him. It finds Ray defining Rhythm and Blues in the 1950s.
The recordings here represent what I consider his golden period with Atlantic. It is prior to his move to other record labels and his experiments with country and pop standards. This is good old R&B. As I said before, it defines the genre in the 1950s as far as I'm concerned. There are few instrumentals; most tracks include vocals, and Ray's voice is in incredible form throughout, rasping, moaning, groaning, and all. A mention must also be made of the distinctive tenor sax work throughout of long time sideman, David "Fathead" Newman.
The music and Ray's voice here have a visceral quality and richness which waned, in my opinion, after Ray's Atlantic years. Later, although Ray remained one of America's greatest musicians, he became increasingly glossy. This is before the gloss. This music has real soul and lots of it.
I have enjoyed this set more than any music I own. If you would like a serious set of goose bumps and hours of enjoyment, I cannot recommend this set highly enough. I own about 25 Ray Charles CDs. I recommend this set hands down above all others.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2001
I doubt I could ever write anything about Ray Charles' music that hasn't already been said. So I'll just tell you two things...
1) Buy this collection - it's fantastic. Of course, these are not the only Ray Charles songs you'll want to buy -- for instance, you can't have a complete collection of his without classics like "One Mint Julep."
2) A few months ago, I was driving in my car, listening to the Allman Brothers with the windows down, and as I pulled up to the light, in the SUV beside me, sitting in the passenger seat, was Ray Charles. He was grooving to the CD I was playing -- I was so excited, I almost felt like it was me, and not Gregg Allman, singing "Wasted Words". And then when it was over, I realized something that had never entered my mind before: how much Gregg sounded like Ray Charles on that song. So many of our best artists have been influenced by this genius, there's no form of music around today that wouldn't be a whole lot different if Ray had never blessed us with his recordings.
So, thanks Ray, for giving me a great story to tell for the rest of my life, and for giving us all that great music. You da man!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 1999
Atlantic Records released 23 singles by Ray Charles from 1952 to 1959 and this box set has them all, both sides, plus 4 other songs released in 1960. The tracks are presented in the order they were recorded, not released, so you can easily hear the evolution of Ray's style from pure blues singer to gospel-inspired R&B favorite. The enclosed booklet documents Ray's Atlantic years including his entire Atlantic single discography. This box set is an excellent collection of early Ray Charles music without any nuisance alternate takes found in so many other box sets.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2004
There is very little for me to say on this classic collection that all the 5 star reviews are true. What's more this collection is beyond rating.To quote the late great Frank Sinatra,'He was the only true genius in our buisness'.It's impossible to single out any standouts as they're all classics.This box set has been exsistence for 13 years.May it NEVER go out of print.It will be a perfect way to know where the legacy of brother Ray started.I'll conclued by thanking brother Ray for all the wonderful music over the the years.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2003
This box set is absolutely worth it. First of all, Ray Charles made the recordings that embodied a new style---Soul, as it is now called. What's fascinating is to hear Ray Charles move from a fairly good imitator of Nat King Cole and Charles Brown to his own synthesis of all the music he loved---gospel, jazz, blues, R&B and yes, country! Country loved him too, as the Everly Brothers recorded several Ray Charles tunes and Ray did a killer version of "Bye Bye Love" on his "Modern Sounds" LP. This box set is a textbook for any musician who wants to learn how to play great piano. Just play along as best you can, if you cop even just 10% of his riffs you are probably funkier than you ever were! I have written out the chords to about ten of these tunes and they are brilliant. Just the chords to "Drown In My Own Tears" are an education in soul. This is one box set you can't get tired of listening to.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2005
I was. I was just a kid, but there was a radio station, black-owned and black-operated, that played these songs. It was exciting and a little scary for me but not to be ignored. The mainstream stations played Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo, some Sinatra. The country stations, well, they played country music, some good and memorable, a lot not good. Times have changed several times over since then, but I can recall most of the songs on this great package. I can recite all of the best ones, but I invite you to buy it for yourself and listen. This is the essence of Ray Charles before he went exploring virtually every corner of the world of music which started in earnest after, well, "What'd I Say?". How great it must have been sitting in some fried chicken shack and listening to these tunes. It was a whole different time. But, darn, I was just a kid.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2002
This is the desert island set. The only competition would be the first Stax/Volt Box, and the only reason it is competitive is that it has more music. When I learned I was going to do a blues radio show I listened to this set and learned more in one night than I had ever known before--no lie. See for yourself!