Genius is a word that is often bandied about but when used to describe the talent of Ray Charles it hits the mark.
Ray Charles rose to prominence during the 1950’s as a rhythm & blues artist while recording for the Atlantic Label. Near the end of the decade, the ABC-Paramount Label made him an offer he could not refuse and Atlantic would not match. For the sum of $50,000 he switched labels, which resulted in the release of some of the most influential albums in American music history. His catalogue for the label would solidify his status as a true American icon.
While his two volumes of Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music would be his best-selling and well-known releases, The Genius Hits The Road became a huge hit in its own right, assembling all the pieces for his future success. It marked his first partnership with producer Sid Feller. Plus, the Raelettes made their first appearance while David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford brought their tenor and alto saxophones to his backing band.
This inaugural1960 debut for his new label remained on the American charts for fifty weeks.
The Genius Hits The Road is a concept album, in a way, as all the tracks refer to locations in the United States. Seven bonus tracks that round out this reissue continue this travel theme and fit in nicely.
“Georgia On My Mind” was a number one hit for Charles and remains one of his signature performances. It perfectly blends together soul, rhythm & blues and pop with one of the smoothest vocal deliveries ever recorded.
Some unlikely titles may cause warning signs to go up for listeners but Charles was such an interpreter of all kinds of music that he managed to make a number of them terrific. “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Deep In The Heart Of Texas,” “California Here I Come,” and “Moonlight In Vermont” all succumb to his magic.
The bonus tracks serve to enhance the songs that comprised the original release. “Hit The Road Jack” features the classic refrain and is another one of his signature performances. His six-minute take on “Rainy Night In Georgia” is the best this side of Brook Benton. Charles makes “Sentimental Journey” perfect with his precise phrasing. He even manages to pull off “The Long and Winding Road” (which was culled from a later point in his career).
It always nice to hear Ray Charles at height of his powers. The Genius Hits The Road finds him beginning a journey unlike any other in American music history. Just climb on board and enjoy the ride.