It was a long arduous day of extraordinary stress, including spending three hours on the freeway in traffic that would render a sardine claustrophobic. When I finally got home, all I wanted was to kick the dog, eat cold pizza and watch reruns of “The Iron Chef”. However, on my porch lay a pristine Fed-Ex package with the words that put a smile on my miserable puss, “Ray Soundtrack”.
Universal Pictures has released a biopic about the life and times of an American musical titan. His name was Ray Charles and his legacy is that he influenced countless entertainers and will do so for generations to come. After watching the trailer at the official website, it appears the storyline takes young Ray from the depths of poverty where he loses his vision at age seven; to the heights of musical achievement built upon a nearly supernatural gift of mental visualization. His abundant musical gifts were fueled this ability to envision and employ his highly evolved sense of hearing, as well understanding “mathematics and its correlation to music”.
In a brilliant soundtrack featuring a collection of the artist’s most famous songs, the listener is offered a glimpse of the musician’s development over a quarter century. “Mess Around” demonstrates a juke joint rhythm and blues approach that Ray developed playing local nightclubs across America; one that was later imitated by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Doctor John and Leon Russell. This sound culminates with “Night Time is the Right Time,” which is perfect snapshot of early sixties soul with screaming honk sax, relentlessly steady groove and edgy backing vocals.
The jazzier sound of Mr. Charles is displayed on a sizzling live version of “What I Say,” not only showcasing his trademark acoustic piano playing but also featuring a funky electric keyboard that sounds like it could have touched by the hands Ramsey Lewis or Joe Zawinul. The jazz approach is also exemplified on one of the finest pop rumbas ever recorded with “Unchain My Heart.” This song defines the coolest work performed by this genius, with superlative delineation of musical textures, prominently mixed female vocals and strategically peppered horn parts. The track separation on this song is simple, masterful and free from the pretension of overblown production.
Early on in his career, Ray apparently did a mean imitation of the great Nat King Cole. This influence is crystal clear upon listening to “Born to Lose,” a song that features a pop melody and lush string arrangement right out of the NKC playbook. This highly produced sixties methodology further evolves with “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, which though highly polished, remains abundantly soulful. By the time he recorded this one, Ray had a style that respectfully incorporated Cole while confidently displaying his own greatness.
Of course, no collection of Ray Charles would be complete without “Hit the Road Jack,” a song conjuring up the image of a woman scorned; one who kicks her man in the pants on the way out the door and then throws all his worldly possessions out the 2nd story window. I have a vivid recollection of me and my best friend pretending to be Brother Ray’s backup vocalists, singing this classic shuffle on the way home from grammar school. Now that’s what I call an influence on popular culture.
This retrospective soundtrack would also be incomplete without the artist’s signature song, “Georgia On My Mind.” While never my favorite, the folks who produced this record thought to include to the original studio version recorded in 1960 as well as an interesting if not slightly gospel version of this tune recorded live in Japan during a 1976 performance.
Today is Saturday and in my infinite laziness, I am paying someone to clean my home. During this time of brief urban exodus, I will spend my precious time attending the cinema. What will be my film of choice? The one I lay down the exorbitant sum of eight dollars to see? Why the answer of course is Team America. However, if this movie about politically incorrect marionettes fighting global terrorism turns out to be (pardon the pun) a bomb, then I might just sneak into another theatre to watch a movie about boy who climbed out of the wreckage of his own personal darkness to fashion the kind of artistic illumination that will forever be imprinted upon our collective consciousness.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.