Personnel: Ray Charles (vocals, piano); B.B. King, Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar); Bonnie Raitt (vocals, slide guitar); Norah Jones (vocals, piano); Michael McDonald (vocals, keyboards); Diana Krall, Elton John, James Taylor , Johnny Mathis, Van Morrison, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight (vocals); Danny Jacob, George Marinelli, Jeff Mironov, Michael Landau, Michael Thompson , George Doering, Charles Fearing, Irv Kramer (guitar); Randy Waldman (piano, keyboards); Alan Pasqua (piano); Billy Preston (Hammond b-3 organ); Michael Bearden (keyboards); David Hayes, Abraham Laboriel, Sr., Trey Henry, Tom Fowler (bass guitar); James Gadson, Jim Keltner, Ray Brinker, Shawn Pelton (drums); Bashiri Johnson (percussion).
Though Ray Charles, one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, was never in need of vocal assistance, he was no stranger to duets either (one of his finest records is a duet album with Betty Carter). For as much of a musical giant as he was, Brother Ray knew how to share the spotlight, as evidenced by GENIUS LOVES COMPANY, his final project before his 2004 passing. In keeping with the eclectic nature of Charles's artistry, he partners with a wide assortment of performers here.
Charles is joined by Elton John on a soulful exploration of the latter's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," and sidles up next to Willie Nelson for a haunting version of the Frank Sinatra hit "It Was a Very Good Year," made all the more poignant in retrospect by its posthumous nature. Of course, it's not all bittersweet melancholy; Charles teams with Van Morrison for a jubilant soul/gospel reading of Van's MOONDANCE tune "Crazy Love," and the duet with James Taylor on the upbeat "Sweet Potato Pie" is probably the sassiest, perkiest thing in which Taylor's ever been involved. GENIUS LOVES COMPANY is a swan song that fittingly finds the titular genius surrounded by friends from varied musical worlds, all of whom he's touched with his rare gift.
Rolling Stone (p.141) - Included in Rolling Stone's Top 50 Records Of 2004 - "A bittersweet duets record....[The album] features the veteran soul innovator crooning sweetly on several decades of standards..."
Down Beat (p.66) - 3 stars out of 5 - "[G]entle pacing helps the encounters feel unforced and palpably intimate..."
Living Blues (pp.48-50) - "Charles himself is in fine, typically elastic voice throughout."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.116) - 4 stars out of 5 - "Thankfully, nobody disappoints."
Ray Charles final studio album is a most fitting swansong for the legendary R and B artist. Like the best of his sixties work, "Genius Loves Company" comprises various successful combinations of pop, soul, funk, blues, country and Gospel. Containing moments of humor, sadness and reflection, the end result is a highly entertaining collection that is often moving and creative.
The album's 12 tracks feature Ray performing duets with some of the cream of popular music. Present and accounted for include vocal luminaries from some six decades including Elton John, B.B. King, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson, to name but a few.
The interesting selection of singing partners is matched by the choice of material. In addition to dipping into some well-known and obscure selections from his fifties and sixties back catalog, Ray draws on pop music gems made famous by talents as diverse as Judy Garland (“Over the Rainbow”), Peggy Lee (“Fever”), Elton John (“Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”) and Stevie Wonder (“Heaven Help Us all”).
One of the highlights of the collection is a duet with B. B. King on the slow burning Beale Street variety blues number - “Sinners Prayer”. For this track B.B. mans the electric guitar, Ray takes the piano and veteran Billy Preston works the Hammond B3. B.B. affectionately comments in the liner notes “we were a sight, three old-timers burning through this historic blues track”.
Like all blues masters, these three legends don’t sing and play the number to a song sheet, they perform it as they feel it at the moment. The result - wild vocals and adlibs proliferate, as do down and dirty guitar and piano solos. A classic traditional blues performance in all respects, this track is a must-have for any lover of this genre of music.
Ray joining Elton John on a duet of “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is the surprise inclusion on the set. A big fan of both artists for many years, it would never have crossed mind to do this. Even more surprising is that this new recording is certainly the equal of Elton’s 1974 hit version (1976: US #6).
A magnificent full orchestra lends support on the track, which generally sticks close to the arrangement on the original recording (minus the female vocalists). Ray’s heartfelt vocals, however, find new depth in the number previously unnoticed, or maybe just long forgotten. Strangely, the best parts of the performance are where Ray’s voice cracks as he attempts to reach some of the high notes. Rather than taking away from the performance, it instead adds to the richness of the whole affair, as it comes across like he is overwhelmed with emotion. By all accounts, Elton is also in fine vocal fetal and does a great job. His contributions, however, are undeniably overshadowed by the passionate outpourings and sense of drama of the elder Statesman.
Two of most inspired tracks on the collection find Ray pondering on the state of the world. In the first of these, a cover of the Stevie Wonder hit “Heaven Help us All” (1970: US #9), Ray and Gladys Knight turn in a Gospel infused blues protest number second to none. Images of the many wars, social injustices and other tragedies that plague our times abound when listening to this lyrical masterpiece. A vitriolic girl choir and blaring horns round out the sound, and there is an undeniable revivalist feel in this number that brings home the message that if we ever needed a higher power to show us the way, it is now.
Interestingly “Heaven Help Us All” is followed on the track list by a heavily (some may say overly) orchestrated duet with the great Johnny Mathis on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. As a flow on from the previous number, the Judy Garland classic itself comes across as a social protest with both Ray and Johnny looking for a better place. Incidentally, Ray avoids the natural temptation to let Johnny look after the many high note verses. To his credit, Ray takes equal share and hits every vocal high asked of him. Despite their different styles, Johnny and Ray work well together and turn in a performance fitting of both their statures in the music business.
The most difficult tracks for Ray Charles fans will be the recordings of “It was a Very Good Year” and a cover of his 1962 hit ballad “You Don’t Know Me” (1962: US #2).
“It was a Very Good Year” made #1 on the Adult Contemporary Chart for Frank Sinatra in the mid-sixties and most recently was the centerpiece for the outstanding Don McLean album Starry, Starry Night. The ballad concerns a man in “the autumn of his years” reminiscing about times in the past that were special to him. The difficulty with this new version, which finds Ray accompanied by Willie Nelson, is that it is much too close to home. The inherent sadness in their performance as they contemplate the end of their lives is overwhelming. The fact that Ray died not long after the recording makes it even worse. That being said, both artists do a splendid job, as does the orchestra when musically representing the passing of time between each verse.
The lounge style ballad “You Don’t Know me” emotes similar feelings, but for entirely different reasons. Unfortunately, Ray’s voice is suffering from the effects of ill health (he was being treated for liver cancer) and he struggles to hit the notes. This takes the listener by surprise because on the first track of the album Ray covers another of his early hits, the smoky blues ballad “Together Again” (with the most talented Nora Jones), where his voice comes across almost timeless. On “You Don’t Know me” he does everything to cover up his shaky vocals and really puts his heart and soul into the performance. This along with the vocal abilities of his duet partner Diana Krall and some fine piano work are fortunately enough to get the recording over the line.
An undeniable charm of Ray Charles’ music over the years was his ability when the mood took him to simply make music just for fun – i.e. songs without a message or serious tale of heartbreak. Some of his hits in this theme were “Hit the Road Jack” (1961: US #1), “Hide Nor Hair” (1962: US #20) and “Busted” (1963: US #4).
Fortunately, there are plenty of tracks on this CD that fall into the same spirit. Examples include a lounge jazz rendition of “Sweet Potato Pie” (duet with James Taylor), a funky soul based interpretation of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” (duet with Natalie Cole) and a live jam with Van Morrison on his self-penned AOR blues driven “Crazy Love”. Ray vocally hangs loose in all of these numbers and injects them with an undeniable sense of humor and warmth.
Another track with the same feel is a cover of the Bobby Vee minor pop hit “Hey Girl” with Michael McDonald. Backed by a full orchestra, Ray gives this piece of sixties fluff a fun-filled work-over complete with laugh at the conclusion. This is further accentuated by Michael McDonald’s sophisticated deadpan vocals. The contrast in their approaches for indefinable reasons works beautifully and breathes life into a song that most would not even given a second thought.
The liner notes on this release are impressive. They feature technical details, artist comments and background information for each song plus photographs of many of the sessions. Unfortunately, if you want the enhanced features for this release, which includes rare footage, you have to put up with the digipak format.
Ray Charles will be an artist still remembered 100 years from now. He was a musical innovator who never let his lack of eyesight hold him back from his dreams or affect the vision in his music. This album ably demonstrates that his passion for his chosen craft stayed with him right to the end. The result is that “Genius Loves Company” stands proudly alongside the best of his album work from his long and fruitful career.
You can earn a 5% commission by selling Genius Loves Company CD on your website. It's easy to get started - we will give you example code. After you're set-up, your website can earn you money while you work, play or even sleep!
Are you the Author/Publisher? Improve sales by submitting additional information on this title.
This item ships from and is sold by Fishpond.com, Inc.