Friday, June 29, 2007

Ray Charles - Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

I figure that it's about time for me to write about my (near) namesake, Ray Charles's 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Much of what is written about this album sees it as the initial work in the country-soul connection that would become more obvious a decade later with the rise in both genres of the Muscle Shoals sound. But unlike later country-soul, as exemplified by Mavis Staples and Solomon Burke, both of whom truly fused the sounds of the country and soul genres (or explored overlaps, perhaps), this album largely ignores the sounds of country, instead transforming songs originally recorded in a country or western style into soul and light jazz.

None of this is meant, however, as criticism of Charles or this album. Rather, I feel that this album points out another important similarity between country and soul: their common relationship to the song. In 1962 rock and roll was on the verge of permanently intertwining the songwriter and the performer, the song and the performance. In rock music, the writing of a song and the interpretation of that song in recording are fused into one action; the song is what's on the record and what's on the record is the song.

Imagine rock hits reinterpreted similarly to this album. It's been done of course; Pat Boone's recording of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" was heard by many as the theme to The Osbournes, but can only really be regarded as kitsch or a novelty song. The lounge interpretation can perhaps even be seen as violating or betraying the song.

The songs on this album are open to radical reinterpretation, however, because they were written with just that in mind. These songs, by and large, weren't written with a performer, genre, or performance style in mind. They were largely written with total disregard to the manner in which any performer would interpret them.

Soul and country share the same attitude toward the song and toward the value of the performer as interpreter separate from the songwriter. Placing value on interpretation seems radical to those of us thoroughly steeped in the singer/songwriter ideology of rock and roll, but listening to this album shows that its absolutely appropriate to assign authorship for genius interpretation.

Ray Charles - Hey, Good Lookin'

From Amazon

No comments: