Recently I sought to address a serious gap in my music collection - the total absence of anything by Ray Charles or Nina Simone. Both artists have vast bodies of work. Where do you start?
I enlisted the help of the great Greek chorus of Facebook, and received various recommendations. I settled on the most frequent suggestions for each artist, and purchased Nina Simone Sings the Blues, and Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music.
Renee Masicotte said Nina Simone Sings the Blues is "the only album you need, maybe ever." Corin Raymond seconded that, saying it's "worth a hundred others, and worth all the Nina Simone collections and compilations put together. It's a jewel, the same way Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Square is a jewel." After listening to the album for the past week, I'm inclined to agree. A track that got me perking up every time is Since I Fell for You.
My girlfriend and a recent dinner guest likened the combination of soft orchestral strings and soft choral singing in Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music to old Christmas records. I suppose Ray's genius lies in the fact that he can take ingredients that sound corny the majority of the time, and create timeless, powerful art out of them. Nicole Antonia Carson said the album "is great even if you don't like C & W." Ray's vocal performances really jumped out at me on this record. Listen to the emotion in his voice in You Don't Know Me.
Continuing on the collective intelligence of my Facebook friends, I'll include two songs, the links to which were provided as answers to my request for recommendations.
Jessica Magalios put Nina's performance of Feelings, from 1976, into my awareness. This is a song I'd only known as the epitome of cornball pop balladry. Nina, playing and singing, seems as tall and mighty as the Statue of Liberty, with this performance.
Rene Masicotte linked to Ray Charles doing Ring of Fire from 1970, on Johnny Cash's TV show. I'd never have predicted anyone could outdo Johnny Cash on any of his songs, much less one of his definitive songs, much less in his presence. Well check this out...
My appetite for both these artists' work has indeed been whetted. If you have any choice tracks to recommend, no need to keep em to yourself.