Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Complete James Ray: 22 Tracks; If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody (in Itty Bitty Pieces), then Put Me in Your Diary--and Welcome to the Floor

Seeing that the various "5" Royales posts, here, have proved popular, here's some more R&B, albeit of a more eccentric lot.

Contained HEREIN (Box.com download) or HITHER (FileFactory download) are the 21 tracks that, I believe, comprise the recorded output of James Ray, elfin soul singer, between 1962 and 1964. He died in '64, as this skeletal Wikipedia article relates.

UPDATE: One more track, a lackluster version of "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade is Over," which shared a single with the far superior "One By One," escaped my notice 'til now. Download it here (Box.com only).  I now believe this to be the complete James Ray.

Ray had a great voice--smoky, expressive, and more than a little indebted to another Ray (Charles). His performances are commanding and unusual.

Producer Hutch Davies fashioned some zany arrangements to couch Ray's unique voice, abetted by several original tunes composed by cult soul figure Rudy Clark.

Some R&B/soul purists can't stand the weird backdrops on several tunes, but I love them, and think that their off-ness is an asset. From the tuba-harmonica duet on the waltz-time "If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody" to the cartoon-Dixieland of "St. James Infirmary," you never know what's gonna end up in the musical stewpot.

Ray did his share of good, solid straight-ahead soul numbers towards the end of his too-brief career. Some of these tracks weren't released until the 1980s, when Charly Records did a James Ray LP. Tunes such as "One By One," "We Got a Thing Goin' On," "On That Day" and "I'm Not Guilty" are top-drawer R&B-soul. The sub-par sax solo on "Not Guilty" is yet another unexpected sonic delight in the Ray-ology.

As best I can determine, these 21 tracks are all that Ray recorded--though I hope I'm proven wrong. The one James Ray song you know, "Got My Mind Set On You," is included with its two parts welded together.

Ray's songs were much-covered by the rock bands that came exploding out of England in the early 1960s. "If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody" and "Itty Bitty Pieces" have many renditions in the UK British Beat catalog. Maxine Brown, US soul-stress, did a nice version of "Fool" in 1967.

Nothing much is known about Ray, but the oft-weird intensity of the recordings speak for themselves. I love his languid, Charles-inspired take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones," and the Rudy Clark-penned modern morality tale "The Old Man and The Mule." Those two tracks show Ray at his vocal peak.

This is a large file... I opted to save the 21 songs as FLAC files. Please don't give me any flack about this. If you're using iTunes, just convert the files to AACs or MP3s, and you'll get a smaller (but probably lossy) version handy for your iPod, smart phone, or dumb camel.

Enjoy, and happy new year, holidays, noel, etc. etc. etc.