Review Summary: A legendary debut from a soulful, legendary man.
Genius stirs greatly in the hearts of those who have endured the most throughout the toughest of times. The early life of Ray "The Genius" Charles was no exception. Over the course of his youth, Ray was left to helplessly witness his brother's death at the age of five, soon after that tragedy he would go blind at the age of seven, only to later experience his mother's death at the age of fourteen and, after all of that heartache, struggle to stay financially afloat; only making a measly $4 per night while playing piano for the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla. But somehow, some way, Ray persevered. With that heart-warming and immediately recognizable smile of his, Ray shot up to the stars due to his endearing persistence to get his talents recognized by the world. Quickly becoming a legend, this notion was forever cemented by the release of phenomenal singles left-and-right, through Atlantic Records at the time of this recording, that helped pave the way to his eventual climb to the top. This self-titled release, later renamed Hallelujah I Love Her So
, was Ray's debut album; brimming with a number of classic tracks that still strike a chord to this day.
"Ain't That Love"
kicks off the album with the charming sound of jingle bells, a soulful vocal performance by Ray as well as an absolutely stunning saxophone solo from David "Fathead" Newman. The album itself juggles between being fun and heartbreaking with ease, as "Drown in My Own Tears"
follows "Ain't That Love"
with an emotionally-drenched ballad. Though the track evokes a joyous feel at first glance (due to the classical instruments used throughout), the lyrics bring to mind the first great tragedy in Ray's life, "I've cried so much / since you've been gone / I guess I'll drown in my own tears / I sit and cry / just like a child"
, which was his brother's death by drowning in a laundry tub. Even though this is a cover of a Henry Glover song from five years beforehand, "Drown in My Own Tears"
feels like a deeply personal song for Charles; merely alluding to the loss of his brother makes this track a very poignant cover all-around.
Moving onto a far more upbeat tune comes "Mess Around"
, a song that can be credited as Ray's first hit single in 1953. The song is marvellous, jumping between a fantastic piano solo from The Genius and another remarkable sax solo from Fathead in the latter half of the track. Originally written by record producer Ahmet Ertegün, the biopic based off of Charles, simply titled Ray
, suggests that this was the song that broke Ray away from sounding too similar to Nat King Cole and Charles Brown. This is an immediately gripping track that will leave you toe-tapping along until the very end. Incredibly catchy and uplifting, of all the great tracks throughout this record, this may very well be the best song, especially considering how powerful Ray's vocals are throughout.
Keeping up the momentum, "Sinner's Prayer"
and "Hallelujah I Love Her So"
are outstanding as well; the latter song is ever so delightful, featuring yet another beautiful saxophone solo, as well as some brilliant orchestra sections, helping to compliment Ray's captivating vocal performance quite nicely. Closing out the record, "I Got a Woman"
arises, delivering a low-key, but utterly striking anthem for the ages. The song can be found (ranked at #235) on Rolling Stone
magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time
list, and understandably so. "I Got a Woman"
is immediately likeable thanks to it's gospel-inspired melodies along with a varied, flavourful vocal performance from The Genius himself. A wonderful way to close out an equally wonderful record.
Overall, Ray Charles
is a pitch-perfect debut from the legendary man with the signature shades. Loaded from top-to-bottom with some of his classiest hits ever, the album is pure bliss from start-to-finish. "A Fool for You"
, "This Little Girl of Mine"
follow the classic tracks up extremely well with equal style and wit. For a man who had such a hard life whilst growing up, it is truly amazing to hear how happy he sounds while playing music (such as on this and his other great albums). Alike so many listeners before him, music was his escape. Ray Charles had a genuine love for music that shined so brightly within some of his most elegant records. This is one of them, a first-rate debut through-and-through.