Originally released on April 1, 1962, Ray Charles’ MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC earned praise for its impact. Concord Records released a remastered version (combined with its second volume) on February 22 to raves including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and more. In a First Listen, NPR Music’s Lauren Onkey called MODERN SOUNDS “one of the most interesting and brash albums of its time.”
At a recent panel at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum called Ray Charles: Still Modern, country superstar Travis Tritt claimed, “Ray Charles should be in the Hall of Fame … I don’t know anybody who has done more to promote country music than the music that Ray Charles did, back in those days.” Valerie June said, “Ray Charles’ voice ….transcended genre. He was singing songs from the country and western world but he made them all his own.”
Charles grew up listening to country music, and was a lifelong fan of the story telling in country songwriting. In MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC, Mr. Charles reworked some of his favorite songs including “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “You Don’t Know Me,” and “Born to Lose.” His record company was, at first, taken aback by Charles’ challenge to musical convention. The album’s integration of soul and country music at the height of the civil rights movement overcame racial barriers in popular music, and simultaneously gave country music far broader exposure than it had ever enjoyed. Speaking about Charles’ role in the popularization of the genre, Willie Nelson said “I think Ray Charles did as much as anybody when he did his country music album. Ray Charles broke down borders and showed the similarities between country music and R&B.”
The album was a blockbuster commercial success, spending 14 weeks atop the Billboard Pop Albums Chart in 1962 and becoming the first country album in history to achieve Gold record status, which naturally led to a sequel, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume Two.
Watch Highlights from CMHOF’s panel Ray Charles: Still Modern below: