Concord Music Group continues its Ray Charles reissue program with an expanded, remastered version of Ray Charles Live In Concert. Recorded at the Shrine Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles, September 20th, 1964, the new version is strengthened by the inclusion of seven previously unreleased tracks. This is absolute prime Ray Charles, showcasing the artist as both musician—check out his piano soloing on “Swing a Little Taste”—and, of course, as vocalist. The first taste of the latter arrives with track four, a smoking “I Got a Woman” that includes an extended vamp.
As for the previously unreleased material, first up is “Georgia On My Mind.” Hard to believe such a stunning version of Charles’ signature song did not make the original cut. Bill Shearson’s flute playing provides a feather-light running commentary throughout this seven-minute-plus version. The audience response to Charles’ unpredictable variations in vocal phrasing elevates the atmosphere. The other unreleased material is no less essential, with powerhouse readings of “That Lucky Old Sun” and “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)” standing out.
As for the original album tracks, perhaps best of all is the definitive take on the 1928 standard “Makin’ Whoopee.” This version was released as a single, reaching #14 on Billboard’s R&B chart. The first two minutes alone are classic, showcasing Charles’ generally underrated improvisatory skills. His sly vocal delivery electrifies the audience, whose collective reactions practically become part of the band. That’s an utterly invaluable aspect of Live In Concert; the audience is boisterously vocal throughout, goosing Charles’ and his musicians to new levels of intensity.
Prior to the set-closing climax of “What’d I Say,” Charles features his backing singers, The Raeletts, on his original composition “My Baby (I Love Her, Yes I Do).” This is yet another previously unreleased gem, with Charles blowing the roof off during his interactions with the female singers. Predictably, “What’d I Say” goes down well with the audience—is there anyone who actually gets tired of hearing this song? After the closing comments of emcee Joe Adams, Charles has some fun with an off-the-cuff rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this 19-track, 75-minute album. I could carry on about the previously unreleased versions of classics like “Busted” and “One Mint Julep” (with scorching organ solos from Charles). Then there’s the call-and-response duet between Charles and Raelett Lillian Fort on “Don’t Set Me Free.” But it should be obvious at this point that Ray Charles fans would be cheating themselves in the worst way to pass on this reissue. Even the goofiest addition, a run through of the novelty tune “Two Ton Tessie” does nothing to hurt the release. The 24-bit remastering adds remarkable clarity and depth to this 47-year-old recording. This is Ray Charles at his best.