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Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company

Jim Santella By

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This final recording by the late Ray Charles consists of twelve duets with popular singers who we've come to recognize almost as clearly as the master himself. As he and B.B. King sing "Sinner's Prayer," you can feel the house rockin'. Both veteran artists relate a convincing plea for forgiveness over what they may have done in the past. They make the song come alive.

Ray Charles had that ability. No matter who he pairs up with, he's able to make everything turn out all right. His genius works quite well with the company he's been keeping for this album, which was recorded over a period of one year and completed in March 2004.

With Diana Krall, "The Genius of Soul" interprets his familiar "You Don't Know Me" with authority. With Natalie Cole, it's "Fever," where both are at their most comfortable. With Gladys Knight, it's a spiritual blessing on "Heaven Help Us All," with orchestra and choir. The lyrics are appropriate for today's world, and nobody convinces like this pair. The revitalized feeling that you get from sharing this message with them can last for days.

Johnny Mathis joins Charles for a gentle "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Elton John for "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word," and James Taylor for "Sweet Potato Pie." While these three arrangements cannot be considered Ray Charles territory, there's little doubt that he's left his indelible mark. "The Genius of Soul" could turn even the most polar opposite into a sidekick. It's all quite natural.

With Van Morrison, he sings "Crazy Love." With Michael McDonald, he sings "Hey Girl." It's a stretch, but Charles' indelible mark is powerful.

Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson fit in just right. Recall that "The Genius of Soul" also explored country & western ballads early in his career, proving that music is a universal language. Whether the singer prefers to be classified as jazz, blues, country, or soul, the feeling that you get from it is all the same. It's genuine.

Track Listing: Here We Go Again; Sweet Potato Pie; You Don't Know Me; Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word; Fever; Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?; It Was a Very Good Year; Hey Girl; Sinner's Prayer; Heaven Help Us All; Somewhere Over the Rainbow; Crazy Love.

Personnel: Ray Charles- vocals, piano; Norah Jones, James Taylor, Diana Krall, Elton John, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Van Morrison- vocal; B.B. King, guitar, vocal; Billy Preston- organ; 63-piece orchestra; others.

Title: Genius Loves Company | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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