So the question is: what is a well-conceived "Best of" in Ray Charles' case? Well, you want the hits, the historically important songs. But you also want to cover as much of his career as possible so as to give an overview. The compilers at Rhino have therefore chosen to concentrate on the period when Charles was truly revolutionizing music, starting with "I've Got a Woman," the song responsible for creating a sound that mixed the blues with gospel, i.e. creating soul music. Before this recording, Charles' music, though excellent, was more derivative, firmly in the mold of Charles Brown or Nat King Cole ,or, in his early Atlantic recordings, more in keeping with the trends of early R&B.
But starting with "I've Got the Blues," it was Charles who was defining the trends. All the important tracks are here, whether from his Atlantic days, including of course "What'd I Say" (the full-length album version), or from his ABC-Paramount stay, including two tracks from his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums, which were so advanced for the time that they shocked the world.
There is only one selection that is not from the 1954-1965 period, and this is "Seven Spanish Angels," a 1984 duet with Willie Nelson that has absolutely nothing to do with the blues (and very little soul, if you ask me). Aside from this one caveat, this is pretty much a perfect intro to the work of the man they called The Genius. (The liner notes are from Living Blues regular Bill Dahl, and are up to his usual level of excellence.)
Rhino is, of course, well known for its Blues Masters series, subtitled The Essential Blues Collection, and who am I to argue? Blues Masters: The Very Best of Jimmy Reed is one of two recent installments in this ongoing series (the other one is devoted to Elmore James). The compilers (with help from Jimmie Vaughan) must have had a somewhat easier task in selecting Jimmy Reed's best music than that of Ray Charles, simply because the career of the former was much shorter than that of the latter. Still, they managed to come up with a few rarities, including "High and Lonesome," the very first Jimmy Reed record and the very first record put out by Vee-Jay, and "Odds and Ends," an instrumental duet between harmonica and violin (yes, violin) from 1957.
This disk is full of that very special Jimmy Reed-Eddie Taylor simple groove, bouncy and light, perfect music for hot and humid summer days. Of course, all the hits are here, including "You Donít Have to Go," "Honest I Do," "Big Boss Man," and "Bright Lights Big City." All selections were culled from Vee-Jay recordings, and they cover the period from 1953 to 1963. And the liner notes are instructive and fun (this is to be expected, since they were written by Cub Koda, editor of the All Music Guide to Blues). Who else would point you towards a specific point in "You've Got Me Dizzy," mumbled in the usual Jimmy Reed style, and ask you to make up your own mind whether or not the bluesman utters the f-word?)
Even if you already own a Jimmy Reed collection, chances are you'll want this one too.
--- Benoît Bričre
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