In nearly every way possbile, Ray Charles reached the pinnacle of his career with Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, released in 1962. It remains the most successful and influential album he ever did, but there was a lot of resistance to the record originally.
Modern Sounds was released just a few months after the initial “freedom fighters” trips through the deep South, which were met with incredible violence at every stop. Many of the executives at ABC Records wondered if this was really the right time for a soul music star to be recording a country album.
Topping the charts in 1960 with “Georgia On My Mind,” and in 1961 with “Hit The Road Jack” gave Ray Charles a lot of power. He used it wisely, and wound up recording a landmark album.
Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music starts off with a swingin’ version of “Bye Bye Love.” The boogie-woogie arrangement sounds more like Louis Jordan than country music, but it certainly works.
“You Don’t Know Me” follows, and ushers in the dominant style of the remainder of the album, lush ballads with heartbreaking lyrics. “You Don’t Know Me” became a number one hit when released as a single.
The biggest hit off Modern Sounds was “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which in fact was the biggest hit of Ray's career. The song not only topped the charts, but went gold within three months of it’s release. In 1962, those types of sales were unheard of.
Legend has it that Charles was given a list of 250 likely tunes to choose from, and pared it down to the twelve eventually recorded. He chose two Hank Williams songs, “You Win Again,” and “Hey Good Lookin.” Charles’ version of “You Win Again” is in line with most of the rest of the record, a lush weeper, brilliantly done.
Ray’s version of “Hey Good Lookin” closes the album out in much the same way as it began, in high jump-boogie style. His version of Hank’s signature tune is joyous, and ends this magnificent set of music in fine style.
Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music was such an enormous hit that ABC Records immediately requested a follow-up. Volume Two was released just six months after the original, and it proved to be a big hit as well. While not as groundbreaking as it’s predecessor, Volume Two does have it’s moments.
Ray again chose twelve songs to record, but this time he took a bit of a different tactic. Side one of the original album consisted of six upbeat tracks, recorded with The Ray Charles Big Band and The Raelettes. The six songs that made up side two feature strings and choirs, in the “Countrypolitan” style of the era.
Ray’s version of Hank Williams’ “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” alone makes Volume Two worthwhile. Fortunately for everyone though, Concord Music have included both volumes on one CD, so you won’t have to choose.
The booklet is pretty cool too, featuring reprints of the original liner notes, plus a new essay by Bill Dahl discussing the impact the records have had over the years. Ray really outdid himself with these two records, and that's saying something.