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Cass' review of Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles

Cass' review of
Genius Loves Company
Ray Charles
Genius Loves Company (2004)
Running time: 50 minutes
Artist: Ray Charles
Genre: Gospel, Blues, Country, Rock and Roll, R&B
Label: Concord Records -- http://concordrecords.com
Artist site: http://concordrecords.com/artists.asp?aid=482&alb=1778
Review Copyright Cassandra Henry, 2004
"When recording or performing with Ray, I always
knew I was in the presence of greatness." -- Gladys Knight


I'm not sure if I fell in love with Ray Charles because he resembled my beloved grandfather, Curley, or because I was raised listening to his music during the five decades when Ray's illustrious career was at its peek. Either way, I totally agree with Norah Jones -- "I just love everything about Ray Charles."

Every weekend, my dad used to set up the record player (yep, record player) in the backyard, and play Ella, Nina, Charlie, and Ray. I would dance around the backyard with my sisters and brothers, and we each took turns singing, "Unnhs" and "Ohhs" from "What'd I Say" (1959). Better yet, whenever my eldest brother, Mat, got in trouble (which was often), we'd sing, "Hit the Road Jack". Most times, we substituted the name Jack with Mat, and pointed him toward the front door with a hitchhiker's thumb telling him to "Hit the Road Mat"! [Laughing to myself just thinking about that].

What I loved most about Ray Charles, however, was his ingratiating presence. Yeah, it's true, I never met Ray, but like everyone else, I felt like I knew him because his music was like a songbook of his life. So, back in August, when I heard Michael McDonald on the Tom Joyner Morning Show talking about his collaboration ["Hey Girl"] with Ray Charles on Genius Loves Company, I ran out and purchased it. Since its posthumous release on August 31, 2004, Genius Loves Company debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 chart and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

So how did this project come about? According to the liner notes, John Burk, Executive V.P. of Concord Records actually instigated this project. Ray said that because he had never recorded his own duets album, he teamed up with some of the friends that he loved and the artists that he admired in his studio and put this special collection together. After a live performance with Van Morrison in June 2003, the first session in Ray's Los Angeles studio began with B.B. King, in July 2003. Other longtime friends and artists he admired lending their voices to Genius Loves Company are Gladys Knight, Willie Nelson, Billy Preston, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole, Johnny Mathis, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Diana Krall, Elton John, Michael McDonald, and Van Morrison. The band backing up Ray and his duet partners are Irv (Magic) Kramer on guitar, Tom Fowler on bass, Ray Brinker on drums, and Randy Waldman on piano.

Of the 12 tracks on Genius Loves Company, I thoroughly loved seven renditions. The duets, “Here We Go Again” with Norah Jones; "Crazy Love" with Van Morrison; "Sinner's Prayer" with B.B. King; "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight; "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," with Bonnie Raitt; and "Fever" with Natalie Cole, are amazing. These legendary singers and newcomer, Norah Jones, certainly held their own when singing "with" Ray. On the other hand, I had mixed feelings about "Over The Rainbow," with Johnny Mathis; "Sweet Potato Pie" with James Taylor; and "You Don't Know Me" with Diana Krall. I can't exactly put my finger on why, but these songs may have sounded better if they had been performed live in concert, but we'll never know that now. And, I have to be honest. There are two interpretations I really disliked. The pairing with Elton John and Willie Nelson is understandable, but their unmatched styles and the odd choice of these song selections, "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" and "It Was A Very Good Year" was all wrong. Regardless of some of the misses, these duets complimented Ray's soulful style, and those musical artists lucky enough to be personally chosen to sing along with Ray, were given an opportunity of a lifetime.

At the age of 73 years old, his distinctive weathered voice sounded slightly frail, but his passion to perform was not lost. I couldn't have said it any better than what Natalie Cole said. "I have grown up with Ray Charles' music and I have always thought of him as the quintessential Soul Man -- the flip side of Nat King Cole, if you will. Ray is a musical genius on piano and in voice. The consistency and substance of his work and his career is something for any musical artist to aspire to. His arrangements are always rich, soulful, but elegant, and he knows how to have fun. I am proud to have worked with him on this endeavor."


When I heard that Ray Charles died, I cried because it was as if a little piece of me had died too. For weeks, I was depressed every time I heard his name in the news and realized that he was actually gone. Sure, I have those memories of watching Ray perform and hearing his incomparable voice sing like no other, but I still wanted him to be alive. You know how you can't erase the last message a loved one left on your voice mail or answering machine because deleting the sound of their voice signifies that they've actually crossed over the rainbow. So, before this message is accidentally erased, you transfer it onto a tape for safekeeping so you can play it again whenever you miss them. That's how I feel about Genius Loves Company. I am forever grateful that Ray Charles left his final loving message on this CD, so I can play it over and over again, whenever I feel I need a little bit of Ray's spirit infused into my day.

Other links: The Making Of Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company

Genius Loves Company: green

Copyright Cassandra Henry, 2004
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