Pop & Rock

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Ray's Spirited Christmas

24 DEC 08 CHRIS SLAWECKI

The first fruit of Concord's exclusive agreement to develop and re-release Ray Charles' post-1960s catalog is the digital-only re-release of his 1985 holiday postcard The Spirit of Christmas.

Perhaps it's no surprise, but the slow burning grooves of Christmas suit Brother Ray just fine. Songs like "Christmas Time" and the contemplative "This Time of Year" nicely match the pain and sweetness in his rough yet tender voice -- the breathy, hushed but no less satisfying sound of appreciating the good times because you've lived through plenty bad.

"That Spirit of Christmas" features not only a great vocal but also a great vocal arrangement, with the chorus' harmonies complementing Charles' longing, yearning voice. "Winter Wonderland" is probably his best vocal on the whole set, accompanied only by (what else?) sleigh bells. His gift for communicating hurt and hope glows brightly through his voice in "Christmas in My Heart."

"The Little Drummer Boy" snapshots Charles' unique blend of gospel and blues, with background pedal steel echoing his famous country and western sound, plus repeated jazzy vamps on the closing line. "Baby, It's Cold Outside," from a great album Charles recorded with Betty Carter, swings the finale jazzy and blue -- brassy, sassy, and fun.

Spirit will be made available in traditional CD outlets in time for your 2009 Christmas.



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