Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Rhythm & Blues Recordings, 1952-1959 [Atlantic, 1991]
Although Charles's fabled blues-gospel synthesis is on display from "I Got a Woman" to "I Believe to My Soul," "birth of soul" gets the emphasis wrong. Seldom conventionally catchy, never teen-oriented, this collection epitomizes a world-historic catchall of a genre that Charles could only describe as "genuine down-to-earth Negro music"--namely, rhythm and blues. Crack bands, first Atlantic's and then his own, underpin his rich, gravelly vocals with hard-hitting grooves of deceptive rhythmic and harmonic complexity. Halfway in, a female backup group soon to be known as the Raeletts starts shoring his male voice up and egging it on, an innovation that became a cliche so fast people think it was always there. [Rolling Stone]