While it is indeed true that some of Ray Charles' vocal performances on his final recording "Genius Loves Company" are mediocre at best I am willing to cut the man a bit of slack. After all, the man was 73 years old when he made these recordings. He lived long and he lived hard. For those of us 55 and under Ray Charles was a force in popular music just about all of our lives. When I heard the news that Ray Charles had passed away I felt much the same way I did when a major sports figure like Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle passed on. All were an important part of my era and it saddens me when they leave the scene.
But the good news is that "Genius Loves Company" affords us all a chance to enjoy flashes of the Ray Charles we all knew and loved. Remakes of two of his hits "Here We Go Again" (with Norah Jones) and "You Don't Know Me" (with Diana Krall) are wonderful reminders of some of the great music Ray made in the 1960's. I also enjoyed Ray and Natalie Cole in a funky rendition of the Little Willie John classic "Fever". But unfortunately there are some clunkers here as well, most notably Ray's duet with Willie Nelson on the Frank Sinatra hit "It Was A Very Good Year". Both men were downright awful on this one and this one should have been left off the album entirely. But fortunately "Genius Loves Company" finishes with a flourish with the final four tracks. Ray seemed to hit his stride alongside the legendary B.B. King on "Sinners Prayer". Just hearing these two icons perform so well at such an advanced age is worth the price of the disc alone. Perhaps my favorite cut on this CD is "Heaven Help Us All" with one of my all-time favorites Gladys Knight. You might think the song was recorded 25 years ago. The final cut is a "live" performance with Van Morrison. "Crazy Love" was a tune Morrison recorded on his very first solo LP back in 1970. Once again, a superb job by both men here.
I was stunned when I learned that "Genius Loves Company" made it all the way to #3 on the Billboard album chart back in 2004. But when you stop to think about it there really isn't much for older folks to buy anymore. If you are looking for a great gift for that special boomer in your life then this would be the ticket. You can be sure it will be appreciated.
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"I've recorded with so many amazing artists in my career but never on a duets album all my own. I thought it was time to have some of the friends that I love and the artists that I admire come into my studio and sing with me live," explains Ray Charles on the genesis of Genius Loves Company. "All the guests brought their own magic to each song. That's what we wanted and that's exactly what we got." Ray's confidence is understandable. Genius Loves Company stands as a remarkable hallmark in a remarkable career. In his brilliant debut for Concord Records, Ray sings a dozen duets with a dazzling array of guest artists from virtually every genre, who have won a combined 79 GRAMMY® Awards. "We cover it all," Ray adds, "from country to R&B, pop, rock and blues. I've never let them put me in a little box, and this CD expresses that open feeling. A beautiful song is a beautiful song—and to sing with so many beautiful singers is a blessing from God."
Featuring guest artists Natalie Cole, Elton John, Norah Jones, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, Michael McDonald, Johnny Mathis, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, and James Taylor.
1. Here We Go Again (Steagall/Lanier) with Norah Jones
2. Sweet Potato Pie (Taylor) with James Taylor
3. You Don't Know Me (Arnold/Walker) with Diana Krall
4. Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (John/Taupin) with Elton John
5. Fever (Cooley/Davenport) with Natalie Cole
6. Do I Ever Cross ...