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No, this is not an important record and thus not an important review. Not that you need it, but you have my permission to skip it altogether and wait for a better one tomorrow.

In fact, if it was not an important artist this wouldn’t have made the cut (and to be honest, one look at the label sequencing tells you this very well might’ve been released a year and a half ago, though all ads and reviews for it are from this month, so maybe it got held back for reasons lost to time).

But regardless of its exact vintage it fits the bill here, for when it comes to someone like Ray Charles we do like to at least keep tabs on him as he wandered through the musical wilderness before discovering his true métier down the road. Since we’ve had to skip a number of his releases because they were miles away from rock ‘n’ roll, this one – though still pretty far removed from its core – allows us to revisit him and give some sense of where he’s at creatively at this stage of his career.

Besides, since I was on the beach ’til sun down last night, drinking, tossing a football around and listening to a band play, it means that you were going to get a half-assed review today no matter what and this non-essential recording was the perfect candidate for just such an assignment.

Yeah, that’s the state of affairs around here… so how’s YOUR summer going?


Where Can You Be?
As stated, it’s been awhile since we’ve come across Brother Ray who was still stuck in musical limbo on Swingtime Records… commercially successful with some cocktail blues sides but creatively stagnant all the same because it was a style where originality wasn’t a factor in his success.

Yet even as he could look around and see – in a matter of speaking – the revolution underway in rock ‘n’ roll, Charles was reluctant to fully give himself over to the music despite the fact that experimentation and thinking outside the box were already hallmarks of that genre.

Maybe he just felt that it was too big of a jump from what he’d made his name on thus far and he’d be taking a risk to try and find favor with the audience from our part of town. Besides, as far as club dates he was probably going to get better gigs if he stuck with a brand of music that had appeal to a slightly older, more well-heeled crowd than frequented the dingy hole in the wall places that rock tended to favor.

So to that end he continued to cut records like She’s On The Ball, a promising title that quickly lets you down with its unimaginative content. He sings it well, as you’d expect, but despite the pulse it shows there’s still no real life coursing through its veins. The song is a “peppy” cocktail blues at best, but still about as appetizing as lukewarm milk.

That’s not to say Honey Honey is all that much better. The milk might be a little colder, maybe someone stirred some chocolate syrup into it to give it a little more flavor, but it’s still a compromised track that only hints at something a little edgier but is still a long ways off from being considered even mildly exciting.

Just To Be Where You Are
The qualifications for this falling under the rock banner admittedly are pretty flimsy, but if we were forced to offer a defense of the decision we’d base our claims on two elements of the record – Ray’s piano playing at the start featuring some unusual intensity for this stage of his career which distances it ever so much from his normal fare.

The second factor are his vocals, which while hardly what you’d call soulful – at least as we envision Ray Charles of the future – they do give an indication of possessing a soul in that he’s singing with genuine feeling rather than the detached voice most of the songs from this era required of him.

Granted that’s hardly placing Honey Honey on par with the latest sides from The Dominoes or Roy Brown, but we’ll take what we can get at this point with Charles and hope he sees the error of his ways soon and starts to try and make amends with something a little more lively.

His vocals here certainly aren’t lively at all, despite showing more ache than we’re accustomed to out of him. But he’s still using that breathy tone, slow delivery and sticking far too close to the written melody to suit us.

Of course it doesn’t help that the composition itself has very little meat on its bones either, as Charles is bemoaning the absence of the girl he desires in a weary voice which does him no favors. He’s clearly dejected over her not being there – or being emotionally distant, take your pick – but there’s no fire in what he’s saying, no frustration over her absence and no unraveling emotions as a result of this.

Granted none of those actually WORK in real life, they only tend to make matters worse, but they’re still the most common reactions to this kind of situation and if nothing else would reveal the depth of his feelings far more effectively than the hollow moaning he’s saddling us with instead.

The musical side of the equation is a little more spirited, as the intro features the kind of pent up anger that would make this a more accurate reflection of his state of mind. Then throughout the record there’s a sneaky guitar which adds a little color to the proceedings, but whatever gains that provides him is handed back with a busy, but pointless, piano solo that suggests nothing more than a way to fill time.

It’s safe to say that hearing him voice these sentiments would not cause the girl to come running back to him any more than it would cause a rock fan with a spare 89 cents in their pocket to race to the store to buy a copy for themselves.


Still We’re Apart
If you wandered in off the street to a dark nightclub where Ray Charles and his trio were playing you’d surely be impressed with his technical skills regardless of your opinion of his musical choices.

He was a talented musician with an expressive voice and always gave audiences a tight presentation on stage, even this early in his career.

But the kinds of songs he specialized in at this juncture we’re fairly generic and often monotonous when stacked on top of one another.

In that context Honey Honey might just stand out enough to get you to stay awhile longer… not that it’d change your impression of him any, but there was just enough life in it to keep you from nodding off if cocktail blues wasn’t your “thing”.

The problem is, even if cocktail blues was your favorite type of music allowing you to take your date to a nicer club, have an elegant dinner and even appear comparatively upbeat and positive in contrast to the song choices, there wasn’t going to be much to create a spark between you with music this mundane.

However, if you and your baby went to see a genuine rock act during this time, you might get your pocket picked in the men’s room, risk permanently damaging your kidneys with the cheap booze they were serving and may wind up in a fight when one of the other patrons cuts in on you and your sweetie on the dance floor, but rest assured the night would be a lot more exhilarating – not to mention far more memorable – than this.


(Visit the Artist page of Ray Charles for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)