Online since August 2002

A double dose of soul

From the Autumn 2004 issue.

Ray: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Ray: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
By Ray Charles

Atlantic / Rhino / Warner Bros.: 2004

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Wattstax: Highlights From the Soundtrack
Wattstax: Highlights From the Soundtrack
By various artists

Stax / Fantasy Records: 2004

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Motion picture soundtracks serve one key purpose for moviemakers and record companies: mo' money.

But every now and then, a soundtrack rises above the pack by providing record collectors with a mix-tape collection of rarities or an overview of a particular artists' work. Such is the case with two recent releases.

A lot of care went into the soundtrack for "Ray," the excellent no-holds-barred Ray Charles biopic. There are a number of Charles hits collections available, and many of them seemed to be repackaged or reissued shortly after the beloved performer died in June. Few, however, can match this soundtrack for sound quality.

"Ray" doesn't contain all of Charles' hits. How could it? Plus some of the songs are from live performances rather than the more-familiar studio versions. But from the opening r&b workout "Mess Around" to the moving live rendition of "Georgia On My Mind" that closes the album, "Ray" serves as an excellent overview of Charles' early years.

Many consider Charles the pre-eminent pioneer of soul music. He mixed elements of r&b, gospel, blues and jazz to create a template for many who followed. The evolution of his soulful sound is certainly in evidence here with such hits as "I've Got a Woman," "Drown in My Own Tears" and "What'd I Say."

But Charles was more than a soul singer. His revolutionary foray into country music is represented with such songs as "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Bye Bye, Love."

"Ray" is must-have for both the novice and the longtime fan.

A later stage in the development of soul music is heard on "Wattstax: Highlights From the Soundtrack." Unlike the Charles soundtrack, it took more than 30 years to get this one right.

In the early '60s, Memphis, Tenn.-based Stax Records provided a gritty, funky soul alternative to the more polished sounds of Motown. The Stax roster included such heavyweights as Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG's, Sam & Dave and Eddie Floyd among others. But many of those acts were gone by 1972 when the label decided to stage the Wattstax concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as part of the Watts Summer Festival. By this time, the Stax roster included soul acts, bluesmen and such superstars as Isaac Hayes and The Staples Singers.

The concert was filmed and released the next year as "Wattstax: The Living Word." Two commemorative albums were released within six months of the film, but neither were true soundtracks. In fact, they included studio recordings and some live performances from venues other than the Coliseum. Even more egregious was the omission of the Hayes' hit "Theme From Shaft," which was a concert highlight but had to cut from the film because of legal problems.

Now with the release of a special-edition Wattstax DVD, many of these oversights have been corrected on the accompanying CD.

"Wattstax: Highlights From the Soundtrack" includes most of the full performances featured in the film, presenting a sampling of the diverse sounds that could be heard on the Stax label at the time.

It opens with the upbeat soul of the Dramatics on "Watcha See Is Whatcha Get," moves into gospel territory with Kim Weston's "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and presents a selection of blues from such luminaries as Albert King and Little Milton. Along the way, there's some funk from the Bar-Kays and Rufus Thomas, as well as a solid live rendition of The Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself."

But the capstone of the album, now with all legal restrictions a thing of the past, is Hayes performing "Theme From Shaft." This is not the supercool version familiar to fans of the 1971 Gordon Parks movie or '70s AM radio, but one featuring a more invigorated effort from Hayes and his band. This one cut alone makes "Wattstax: Highlights From the Soundtrack" a worthy purchase.

Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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