Picks and Pans Review: The Birth of Soul 1952-1959

updated 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ray Charles

Six years after combing its archives to assemble the extraordinary seven-volume set Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974, the label has dipped deeper into its vaults to issue the Atlantic & Atco Remasters Series, a group of individual compilations devoted to such influential R&B singers as the Clovers, LaVern Baker and these two generously gifted gentlemen.

In the '50s McPhatter often climbed the charts, singing for the Dominoes and the Drifters before embarking on a solo career. After a steep personal and professional decline in the '60s, he died of a heart attack in 1972 at age 39. Though later soul singers like Jackie Wilson, Frankie Lymon and Little Anthony would soar beyond the reach of McPhatter's high tenor, no one ever approached the vibrancy and effervescence of his tone.

Whether the setting was pop, doowop or the lounge languor of "Without Love (There Is Nothing)," McPhatter's style never varied. But then, why tamper with a voice this sublimely sweet?

Ray Charles, as these three revelatory volumes prove, was a whole 'nother kettle of sunfish: brassy, emotional and as mercurial as a tropical sky.

The astonishing first record (1952—54) reveals a hard-bitten bluesman on "The Sun's Gonna Shine Again," a Nat King Coleian crooner on "Roll with My Baby" and a jive cat out of the Louis Prima school on "It Should Have Been Me." The tunes are rendered with such conviction that it's hard to believe they were the work of one singer.

The second and third volumes show how Charles managed to fuse all the lively styles that influenced him into one glorious, soulful synthesis. Increased self-assurance and a taste of chart success made Charles flirt too often with a tamer commercial sound. But this is the period that produced such intoxicating classics as "I Got a Woman," "Hallelujah I Love Her," "The Right Time," "What'd I Say" and "I Believe to My Soul."

Charles, of course, is still going strong. He had a better year at the box office than Whitney Houston. Listening to this collection, it's obvious he was blessed with enough verve, talent and taste to last a lifetime. (Atlantic)

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