Ray Charles – Live in Concert (Album review)

Ray Charles – Live in Concert (Concord) Although there are several Ray Charles live albums available, only Live in Concert captures him at the peak of his powers.  Recorded in 1964 at the Shrine Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles, the original twelve-song album is augmented by seven never-before heard performances.  At the time, Charles was just coming off the enormously popular crossover success of his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums, which helped to further propel into mainstream popularity.

He had already amassed many hits, including three number one singles.  Charles took this confidence on the road with him, surrounding himself with a wall of horns (including mainstays David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford) and the Raeletts on background vocals.  By this point, the singer had shown that he could take just about any style of music and make it his own.  The concert begins with two instrumentals: “Swing a Little Taste,” a big band send-up featuring some utterly amazing piano work from Charles, and “One Mint Julep,” which downshifts to blues as he switches to organ.  Then Charles teases the beginning of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” before launching into a tightly-wound version of one of his earliest hits, “I Got a Woman.”

Amazingly, some of the songs left off the original LP were his biggest hits.  “Georgia On My Mind” crawls along at an incredibly slow pace, yet Bill Pearson’s flute keeps it from sounding like a funeral march, while the band outdoes the original arrangement of “Busted,” one of his most recent hits at the time.  Another highlight is a pure soul reading of “You Don’t Know Me,” which totally obliterates the polished studio version.  The most stunning track is an impromptu arrangement of “Makin’ Whoopee,” featuring Charles on piano and vocals, accompanied by only drums and bass.  Originally done by Eddie Cantor back in the Twenties; here Charles’ performance is incendiary.

Another surprise is the stunning sound quality, certainly helped by the presence of ace engineer Wally Heider.  While many live shows from the Sixties sound flat – Live in Concert puts you right there in the audience.  A must-have for any soul music fan.  – Tony Peters