Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, Vols 1 & 2

Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, Vols 1 & 2

Released in 1962, the first volume of Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music documents Ray Charles’ genre-bending foray into the lily-white terrain of commercial country music. It almost immediately became one of the most important records in American popular music history—an endlessly listenable revolution hiding in plain sight. The Florida native had performed country songs while growing up, but it wasn’t until he had the commercial power of an R&B-star-turned-pop-star that he could finally capture his love of the genre on record. The singer’s uncompromising intent was made explicit in the album’s title: You could call it modern—but this was pure country and western. From the gently shuffling rendition of Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” to Charles’ groovy take on “You Are My Sunshine” to the heartbreaking pathos of Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me,” Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is packed with now-definitive versions of genre classics. Charles’ bluesy, evocative phrasing and effortless piano not only give heft to pop arrangements that might otherwise be overly saccharine, they also drive the album’s rollicking, big-band R&B grooves. Modern Sounds turned out to be one of the most successful records of Charles’ career (it even inspired a quickly recorded follow-up, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume Two, released later that same year). Still, it’s impossible to quantify the way that it erased—even for a moment—American popular music’s original sin: The commercial segregation of white and Black artists. Charles’ album changed country music forever, forcing a symbiotic relationship with sounds and artists from other genres, and proving that country’s songs could easily stand on their own. The singer didn’t fix racism in pop music with what became his magnum opus, but he did as much as any artist could to show that any division was a toxic fallacy. Today, his brave effort sounds better and truer than ever.

Disc 1

Disc 2

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