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Ray Charles "Genius and Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection."

By Michael Henningsen

JANUARY 5, 1998:  Rhino's release of Genius & Soul expands upon the label's 1991 three-CD Charles retrospective, The Birth of Soul. And, while the earlier set is essential to any R&B, soul and blues collection, the latest digs deeper into Charles' music, from his early-1950s recordings to his various experimentation with jazz and even country and western in the '60s to his eventual foray into the world of pop. While not all of Charles' sides are included on this five-disc set, Genius & Soul is by far the most in-depth, comprehensive journey available into the music of the man who virtually invented soul music on his own.

Ray Charles (Robinson) was born at the height of the Great Depression in 1930 in Albany, Ga. He lost his sight at age six to glaucoma and was orphaned by the age of 15. He studied composition and learned many instruments while attending the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind and worked as a musician in Florida before eventually moving to Seattle in 1947. Charles spent the next four years recording milder work--in relation to the classic soul music he would record later--in the tradition of Charles Brown and Nat "King" Cole. In the early '50s, Charles' music, especially his singing, began to toughen, hinting at the gospel-powered sound he would soon pioneer. Genius & Soul takes us from those early days of Charles' career through a series of evolutions and innovations that went on to define American soul and R&B. Listening to the five discs in succession, one is privileged to an understanding of Charles as a gifted pianist and arranger, probably the most soulful singer of the past 50 years, as well as a powerful, confident personality.

This collection is truly classic in every sense--it represents the genius and legend of Ray Charles, an historical look at the evolution of soul music and, perhaps most important of all, a time capsule of American music. Genius & Soul is far more than a boxed set with an extensive booklet. It's a showpiece deserving of the utmost appreciation. Truly, through Ray Charles, we have been blessed.

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