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Ray Sings, Basie Swings

Ray Charles & The Count Basie Orchestra

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Album Review

Ray Sings, Basie Swings, huh? Hmm, well, yes and no. You see, the story goes something like this. In 2005, Concord Records exec John Burk, who produced Ray Charles' superb late-career, Grammy-winning Genius Loves Company, found a reel of tape simply labeled "Ray/Basie." Upon further analysis, it was determined that the 1973 recording featured Ray Charles backed by his own band — Count Basie and his band had actually recorded earlier that day. Charles' vocal was exceptionally prominent in the mix and at first it was thought that this potentially momentous discovery would prove unable to bear fruit. But then Burk brainstormed and decided to bring the current Count Basie Orchestra — whose leader died in 1984 — into the studio to lay tracks behind Charles' vocals. So there's no Basie on Ray Sings, Basie Swings, but that's merely a technicality, because there is some great music. Charles was in fine form vocally on this mix of remakes of his early ABC-Paramount-era hits and then-recent material. The consecutive reworkings of "Busted," "Cryin' Time," and "I Can't Stop Loving You," three of his defining Top Ten hits of the early '60s, are given brassy, bluesy treatments here, and standards ranging from Oscar Hammerstein II's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" to the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" are transformed in Charles' hands. The set-closing "Georgia on My Mind," as close to a signature song as Charles had, is given a tender, minimalist reading, but the track preceding it, "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma," picked up from the folk-pop singer Melanie, is quite possibly the album's highlight. It's appeared on other Ray Charles compilations before, but the gospelized, testifyin' version featured here has got to be the liveliest take on that song anyone's ever devised. So, yeah, there's no Count Basie to be found here, but his namesake orchestra does him proud. For one of those postmortem studio patch jobs that owes as much to technology as talent, it's a fine addition to the Ray Charles oeuvre, as long as one can get past the semi-false advertising of its title.

Customer Reviews

Conflicted, but it's So Good

I can't believe I'm giving this four stars, but musically this record is undeniably excellent. When I heard about this project, the "smells-like-exploitation" shudder hit me quickly, but I know some of the players on the record, so I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did - as music, "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" is wonderful. And as a technical achievement, it truly is remarkable.* Some of the "exploitation" stench still lingers however, and we should get that out of the way. First things first, as other reviewers have highlighted, Count Basie himself is NOWHERE in the vicinity of being found on this record, because he left this earth over 20 years ago. This recording features brand new recordings of HIS BAND, which has continued on without him ever since. Ray Charles' vocals come from a recently re-discovered batch of live concert tapes from the 1970's. Here's where the gimmick sets in: on these specific dates, Count Basie was also on the bill, though separate from Brother Ray. But the tapes were marked "Ray Charles/Count Basie," and it started giving John Burk thoughts in his head when he discovered them. "They never played together, but they should have" - and bam, a concept is born for this project. Of course, they have STILL never played together, and the producers could have used any contemporary big band to record the charts, but using the Basie Orchestra makes it possible to milk the "collaboration" from a marketing standpoint. And it certainly seems at every step that the label isn't going out of its way to clarify that Basie himself has nothing to do with this. Ok, that's off my chest. And if you can get past it as well, what's left is an album of spirited performances where Ray is in his absolute prime vocally, and he's backed by an absolutely awesome big band. Forget the concept, and just listen to the music, and you'll be moved. A wonderful mix of classic Ray Charles hits, and a few covers never-before-heard. "The Long and Winding Road" - GORGEOUS. Georgia On My Mind - amazing. Musically, "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" mows down "Genius Loves Company" - and that album won a frickin' Grammy! Enjoy this music. *For further information on the amazing technical achievement of combining new and precise instrumentals to Ray's old, idiosyncratic, not-to-a-click, push-pull vocal delivery, there is - among others - an article on Billboard's website worth tracking down from its archives.

Ray and the Count - Believe it or not!

OK - so this is the result of recording engineers playing with their new fangled equipment... who cares? This is Ray in his prime backed by a great big band rendering some of Ray's greatest hits. And as a bonus, a couple of covers that are great listening too. Thanks to those people who spend hour after hour listening to old tapes... without them there would be not Ray and the Count. Keep searching - who knows what will come of it? This one is a winner!

Making this CD

I heard them interviewing the guy who put this CD together on NPR. I don't remember his name but he has worked with Basie and Ray Charles in the past before they died. He said it took 5 months of working 12 to 18 hours a day to complete this project. Half way through the project he said he realized he needed to incorporate the Raylets so he called Patti Austin and she made it happen. This is an excellent CD!!

Ray Sings, Basie Swings, Count Basie Orchestra
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Customer Ratings