The story of this album is that of a musician at the peak of his craft choosing to do what he is told cannot be done. The result of that boldness is a dramatic blend of soulful vocals, richly developed jazz and gospel arrangements, and stripped-down mournful country lyricism that is unlike anything that came before it.
Genre-blending has become prevalent to the point of being completely unremarkable in current music culture. That familiarity can obscure just how revolutionary Ray Charles’ vision was. In 1962, at the height of racial tension accompanying the American Civil Rights Movement, he borrowed country classics like Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and infused them with styles pioneered by black music culture.
I Can’t Stop Loving You
Charles faced criticism for going through with this project and risked angering white audiences, alienating his black audience, and eroding the trust and creative freedom he’d built with his label. Instead, he crossed the aisle between styles and cultures and produced a groundbreaking classic that’s very strength is in its ability to highlight the rich common ground between what the conventional wisdom of the time held to be irreconcilably different.
This album has been re-released and remastered this year on vinyl (and other formats), and you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. Here are a couple more stand-out tracks, along with their classic country versions, to show you what you’re missing.