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Making one of his sporadic and unpredictable visits to the outskirts of rock ‘n’ roll is somebody who will wind up having a longer more viable career that anybody else we’ve encountered so far in this field.

That he wasn’t yet fully on board with the style – and in fact never would be a permanent resident by choice – makes for a rather inconsistent narrative as we try and at least touch upon his records that came closest to the genre at hand, but when it comes to Ray Charles, someone who never followed anybody’s game plan even in the best of circumstances, I suppose that’s just par for the course.


The Only One
Generally speaking the early years of Ray Charles are seen as a period where he sort of wandered the musical wilderness in search of a style to call his own.

He was usually shoved in the cocktail blues bag with many of his records during this period being clearly influenced by Charles Brown or Nat Cole, who himself had moved on to other things, namely pop music.

But Ray couldn’t even fully adhere to those ground rules and would venture into other areas when the mood struck him, such as on the almost undefinable Late In The Evening Blues

This one is a little fuller sounding than the cocktail blues motif usually allowed as the pop-jazz horns send it off into another directly entirely. The despair is rooted in deeper blues styles while the manner in which he sings has more in common with some more rock ballads, making this a record that either belongs to none of those classifications or is acceptable in any of them.

We’re going with the latter explanation, if only so we don’t lose sight of Ray Charles before he starts heading in our direction much more consistently in a few years time.


The One I Can’t Afford To Lose
In his lifetime Ray Charles didn’t talk much about these songs from this period much, partly because he wasn’t asked about them nearly as much as his classic Atlantic or ABC sides, but also because they weren’t necessarily on his own mind since he wasn’t continually revisiting most of them in concert.

When he would haul one out he sure wasn’t beholden to the original arrangement as he might’ve been with his bigger hits, and so they were just compositions to him rather than records marking a specific place and time.

But you wish someone HAD asked more questions about this time frame because it’d be interesting to see what his state of mind was when he was recording them, whether he was aiming at any specific market or if he was just tackling whatever it was that interested his quirky tastes at the moment.

Late In The Evening Blues is a song that seems almost designed to highlight stylistic conflicts. The opening horns could easily fit in rock circles, yet when the full fusilade comes in to answer his vocal stanzas they’re playing too smooth and orderly to make any connection with rockers, no matter how lenient they were about such things.

With such a precise arrangement it almost loses its emotional connection to the listener, lacking the messy passion of reality that you get when musicians are adhering less to the charts and more to their instincts. Yet within that there are still things that impress, the interplay between Ray’s piano and the alto sax in the quiet reflective moments after the one minute mark, and the baritone’s weary sounding commentary between certain lines.

However inclined you are to credit those touches however there are other aspects that are much more stilted to cause concern, such as when the horns join together after Ray is saying how much he “hates to hear the raindrops” and for some reason this is when the musicians decide they should sound buoyant and optimistic and then Ray compounds that mistake with a far too spry piano fill after repeating the sentiment.

If the backing music doesn’t sink the record on the whole it also doesn’t really add to it and certainly there’s not enough signs that rock was foremost in their thoughts when they cut this track.


Will I Ever Find My Baby?
Faring a little better in Ray Charles himself on vocals, who delivers a very credible lead that requires him to wallow in misery over his predicament after a girl has left him, managing to do so without falling prey to any overacting in the process.

His voice here is still a little thinner, a little more tentative in its choices, but clearly exhibiting both good instincts and a solid understanding of the emotional resonance the song requires to put across.

He’s as much weary as he is sad, or maybe he was so broken up over this split that he’s gotten no sleep lately which would fit the overall plot, and so we never get a cracked, weeping voice on the brink of despair. Instead he’s sorting through his feelings, resigned to the outcome yet still somewhat confused how everything fell apart on him.

In that regard Late In Th Evening Blues works pretty well… it IS evocative of his bleak outlook and even his reedy tone isn’t out of place considering his circumstances. He still has a tendency to rely a little too much on vocal quirks, such as on the breathy opening line, but when he lets himself go – the way he turns “please” into a two syllable word for instance – you really feel his pain in a way that doesn’t seem artificial.

But while inhabiting the character’s mindset is always desirable on a record, there’s a bigger question of whether that makes for a really good sounding record, one you want to come back to time and time again. Obviously with a song like this it won’t be for any vicarious joy you’ll get from hearing it, but you’d definitely look to something in this vein to cry about your own misfortune if you were in the same boat.

Yet in spite of that potential his performance doesn’t quite inspire the communal suffering response that they were looking for as instead this seems to be more akin to peering in the window to Charles’s soul to watch his heart ache rather than to relate to it as a shared experience. He’s undoubtedly in pain, but he’s pushing you and your pain back when someone like Amos Milburn for example would instinctively pull you in.

As such it’s a better example of Charles’s developing technique than it is a really quality record on its own merits.

When I Need A Favor Done
Records like this, were they to come from someone other than an all-time legend, would be stuck in a stylistic no man’s land… probably being housed in blues because of the despondency, and then by default being shuffled off to the cocktail blues because of the instrumental lineup, though even that is questionable with a full horn section on board.

In 1950 that might not have been as much of an issue as it is in retrospect, as this did make some regional charts at the time (mainly around the San Francisco Bay Area) which shows that it was intriguing enough to listeners who didn’t particularly care for labels which were not as widely used then anyway.

But the truth of the matter is it’s not a comfortable fit in blues, whether the cocktail variety or not, any more than it is in rock ‘n’ roll, yet for our purposes as historians it’s got to land somewhere just so it doesn’t fall through the cracks altogether.

What that means however is when slotting in rock ‘n’ roll it’s going to suffer from the uneasy fit it has with the rest of the genre, and so while you might admire certain elements of Late In The Evening Blues it probably won’t back those up with enough other related elements to get it over the hump.

It’s competent for sure, but hardly compelling, a much better reminder that for all of his talents Ray Charles was in fact still searching for his true identity. This wasn’t it, but it was one he had to try on for size before discarding it and moving to the next suit on the rack.


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