July 7th, 2006
Artist: Ray Charles
Label: Night Train International
Catalog No.: NTI CD 7154
This isn’t your mama’s Ray Charles. These previously unreleased tracks from the Swing Time label were recorded from 1949-1951, nearly a decade before Charles’s first LP for Atlantic. Here we discover the vocal stylings of a young Ray Charles at the very threshold of his career, covering pop and blues ballads with some jazz piano licks thrown in for good measure. Think Nat King Cole, but with a bluesier edge. Charles never breaks a sweat in this mellow, slow groove set that only hints at the gospel-inflected soul that would soon become his trademark sound.
Though the packaging runs more to the budget side of things, with scant liner notes by Nick Loss-Eaton offering a very brief history of Charles’s Swing Time recordings, more attention was obviously given to the remastering. Working from metal masters and lacquer discs, engineer Art “Shiffy” Shifrin did a great job in cleaning up the initial tracks on the CD, paying particular attention to maintaining the broad bandwidth of the original masters in an effort to duplicate the sound that the session engineers would have heard in the control room when the grooves were being cut. The remaining tracks were apparently remastered from tape sources by Moses Nagel, who used a much heavier hand in terms of noise reduction.
Unreleased is actually more of a companion (think vol. 3) to NTI’s earlier double CD set, Ray Charles: The Complete Swing Time/Down Beat Recordings, offering up alternate takes that hadn’t yet been discovered when the latter was released in 2001. Collectors and fans of Ray Charles will want to own all 3 CDs, which together offer a complete set of his earliest, rarest tracks.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss