Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music (1962)

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is a studio album by American singer and pianist Ray Charles. It was recorded in February 1962 at Capitol Studios in New York City and United Recording Studios in Hollywood, and released in April of that year by ABC-Paramount Records.

The album departed further stylistically from the rhythm and blues music Charles had recorded for Atlantic Records. It featured country, folk, and Western music standards reworked by Charles in popular song forms of the time, including R&B, pop, and jazz. Charles produced the album with Sid Feller, who helped the singer select songs to record, and performed alongside saxophonist Hank Crawford, a string section conducted by Marty Paich, and a big band arranged by Gil Fuller and Gerald Wilson.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was an immediate critical and commercial success. The album and its four hit singles brought Charles greater mainstream notice and recognition in the pop market, as well as airplay on both R&B and country radio stations. The album and its lead single, “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, were both certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1962, as each record had sold at least 500,000 copies in the United States.

The album’s integration of soul and country challenged racial barriers in popular music at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In the process of recording the album, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to exercise complete artistic control over his own recording career. In retrospect, it has been considered by critics as his best studio record and a landmark recording in American music. According to Robert Christgau, the album “transfigured pop, prefigured soul, and defined modern country & western music.”

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Bye Bye Love” Boudleaux Bryant, Felice Bryant 2:09
2. “You Don’t Know Me” Eddy Arnold, Cindy Walker 3:14
3. “Half as Much” Curley Williams 3:24
4. “I Love You So Much It Hurts” Floyd Tillman 3:33
5. “Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Way)” Eddy Arnold, Zeke Clements 3:26
6. “Born to Lose” Frankie Brown, pseudonym of Ted Daffan 3:15

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Worried Mind” Ted Daffan, Jimmie Davis 2:54
2. “It Makes No Difference Now” Floyd Tillman, Jimmie Davis 3:30
3. “You Win Again” Hank Williams 3:29
4. “Careless Love” Traditional, Arranged by Ray Charles 3:56
5. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” Don Gibson 4:13
6. “Hey, Good Lookin'” Hank Williams 2:10

Review: When Ray Charles made Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music in 1962, he was operating from a position of power. Two years into his contract with ABC-Paramount, he had already become a fixture in the Top Ten with both his singles and his albums, winning a Grammy for his 1960 single “Georgia on My Mind.” Charles had freedom to do whatever he wanted, and he chose to record interpretations of 12 country songs, drawing almost equally from recent hits and older standards. The sly virtuosity within Charles’ approach was to treat these tunes as a a songbook to be reinvented, not as songs that were tied to their rural roots. Later, Charles explained that he saw little difference between a country tune and a blues song — they draw from the same emotions and musical traditions — but the striking thing about his interpretations on Modern Sounds in Country and Western is that he’s not concentrating on the earthier elements of either genre. He’s fully focused on playing these songs as he’d play any other, grounding them in jazz and soul, then dressing them in arrangements designed to snag a crossover audience. To latter-day generations, those arrangements — thick with strings and backing vocals — may sound slightly schlocky, yet even in 1962 they were a sign of how Charles was as intent on appealing to a mainstream easy listening demographic as he was to his soul and jazz audience. That’s the brilliance of the project: it is thoroughly American pop music, blending seemingly disparate elements in a fashion that seems simultaneously universal and idiosyncratic. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Schill Score: 6.75/10

Listen to Album on Spotify

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