Eagle Rock Entertainment // 1981 // 47 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // January 14th, 2005
A Ray Charles concert was always a special event, but this show will surely go down as one of his finest performances.
Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia. At the age of five, his brother died from an accidental drowning, a traumatic event many believe triggered the loss of Ray's sight. Two years later, he was enrolled at Florida's school for the deaf and blind, where he ignited a passion for music and initiated an amazing career that would span eight decades.
I was blessed to have seen Brother Ray in concert at Chicago's Ravinia Festival in the mid-1980s. You could not help but be touched by the power of this man's soul. The energy he exuded on stage was beyond anything I had experienced. From rhythm & blues and soul to country and pop, Ray's music defied any labels. He's the only man I know who could rock the house with "Hit the Road Jack," dazzle you with brilliant cover of Lennon and McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby," have you on the floor laughing with "Makin' Whoopee," and close by bringing a tear to your eye with his stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful."
The great ones make everything look effortless. From behind that piano, he captured the complete attention of everyone within earshot and complete command of his musical genius. There was no disability here.
If you have not experienced a Ray Charles concert, here is your chance. Eagle Rock has released his live January 27, 1981 televised performance with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. This 48-minute set includes many of his popular hits, his charming repartee, and a handful of surprises -- most of those being how dated the hairstyles, costumes, and set look compared to today's standards.
In fine voice and bursting with energy, this is Ray Charles in his prime. He's older and wiser than the Jamie Foxx version you'll see in Ray, but younger and more spry than the Ray we've seen in recent years. Backed by a 40-piece orchestra loaded with bold, brassy horns and lush, lavish strings, you'll certainly pick up on that late '70s sound. But each of these 11 tunes transcends a definitive time, which is to Ray's credit. He was no studio artist. Fueled by his own internal fire, Brother Ray thrived off the energy of his band and his audience. More often than not, his live performances went far beyond anything he ever recorded in the studio, and you'll see that here.
Ray enters the Edmonton, Alberta concert hall and plows through "Riding Thumb" and "Busted," before settling down with thoughtful and sly renditions of "Georgia On My Mind" and "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." It's here he slides into his patented conversational style. Ray didn't just sing. He dialogued with his audience through music. Little asides, open-ended questions, and throwaway jokes can be found throughout. Despite lacking standard 20/20 vision, Ray sees everything going on around him -- his band mates and his audience. There are times you can almost swear he is singing directly to you. A feeling not soon forgotten.
Following a funked-up version of "Some Enchanted Evening," Brother Ray introduces his backup singers, The Raelettes, in that true ladies man fashion. With the girls, he juices the joint with four of his greatest hits: "Hit the Road Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Take These Chains," and "I Can See Clearly Now." As a bridge to his final two songs, Ray switches over to the organ for a musical conversation peppered with a medley of tunes from a country yodel to funky soul.
Into the home stretch, Ray delivers an inspired version of his legendary "What'd I Say" and a picture perfect rendition of "America the Beautiful" to close the show. It's classic Ray Charles in every way, shape, and form.
If you're looking for pristine video and audio quality, you won't find it here. Remember, this was a televised performance and exhibits all the technical prowess of an episode of The Lawrence Welk Show. The 1.33:1 full frame transfer preserves the original broadcast format in all its gauze-like fuzziness. It's as if the camera lens had been coated with a thin layer of Vaseline and hurriedly wiped clean. This is further emphasized by the ghosting found in the way the camera absorbs and tracks the stage lights and follows Ray's quick movements. The audio is presented in both a remastered Dolby 5.1 Surround and a 2.0 Stereo mix. The surround gets the edge with a more robust presentation, and a richer base line. The stereo mix is flat and loses some of the life in Ray's performance. No subtitles are provided, but good music never needs any. You won't find any bonus features either, but that's okay. It's not what drew us here.
Sadly, this angel of music transcended our world on June 10, 2004. Lucky for us his recordings, each endowed with a little piece of his soul, will live on forever. Whether or not this was one of Ray Charles' finest performances, as the jacket cover states, it certainly is a concert worth experiencing.
Review content copyright © 2005 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 47 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Ray Charles Biography