“Genius Loves Company” is Ray Charles’ last studio recording, completed just 3 months before he died. This record could have easily been titled “Company Loves Genius”, as each of the talented artists that accompany Ray on this record shine, and in so doing reflect the admiration and appreciation that each of them have for him and his music.


Genius Loves Company:
Ray Charles

(2005) Music Review


MUSIC REVIEWS INDEX
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THE MOVIE "RAY"
Overview
Review by David Bruce
Review by Chris Utley
Review by Kevin Miller
Trailers, Photos
About this Film pdf file
Spiritual Connections

This page was created on June 9, 2005
This page was last updated on July 27, 2005

TRACKS -Samples on Windows Media

1. Here We Go Again - Features Norah Jones
2. Sweet Potato Pie - Features James Taylor
3. You Don't Know Me - Features Diana Krall
4. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word - Features Elton John
5. Fever - Features Natalie Cole
6. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind - Features Bonnie Raitt
7. It Was A Very Good Year - Features Willie Nelson
8. Hey Girl - Features Michael McDonald
9. Sinner's Prayer - Features B.B. King
10. Heaven Help Us All - Features Gladys Knight
11. Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Features Johnny Mathis
12. Crazy Love - Features Van Morrison

CD Purchase
CD info
Title: Genius Loves Company [ENHANCED]
Artist: Ray Charles

The fact that Genius Loves Company will be Ray Charles's final new album inspires an unavoidable blue feeling. But it's also a happy reminder that the man spent the last months of his life at work doing what he loved. The overall effect of these dozen duets is autumnal and smooth. Brother Ray is on point and cruising here. Fine moments abound--you can hear his delight even in the rather stiff company of Diana Krall and Natalie Cole. His voice sounds a bit frayed by ill health at times, but it also allows for great performances like the slyness behind the ache in his version of the old soul hit "Hey Girl" with Michael McDonald and a grand "Crazy Love" with Van Morrison. Potently, he and Gladys Knight remind us of the continued timeliness of Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Help Us All." Its best moments make Company one more essential purchase for Ray Charles fans. --Rickey Wright


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“Genius Loves Company” is Ray Charles’ last studio recording, completed just 3 months before he died. This record could have easily been titled “Company Loves Genius”, as each of the talented artists that accompany Ray on this record shine, and in so doing reflect the admiration and appreciation that each of them have for him and his music.

Along with the obvious joy and happiness heard on this record, the listener can also detect a certain degree of physical fragility in Charles’ voice as he collaborates with this talented “company” just before his death (Ray died in June 2004 from complications from liver disease, at the age of 73).

Ray’s incredible talent, heart, and soul, evident on many of the songs on this album (all of the songs included on this record were chosen by the artist himself), were acknowledged when the Genius Loves Company album received 8 Grammy awards:

• Best Pop Vocal Album
• Record of the Year (“Here We Go Again” with Norah Jones)
• Best Gospel Performance (“Heaven Help Us All” with Gladys Knight)
• Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance (“Sinner’s Prayer” with B.B. King)
• Two awards for the Best Vocal Collaboration category ("Here We Go Again" with
Norah Jones and "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" with Elton John)
• Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals (Victor Vanacore for
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with Johnny Mathis)
• Best Engineered Album (non-classical)
• Best Surround Sound Album

 

This is the best selling record of his 50-year career (he released his very first record in 1954, and his first complete album back in 1957!), outselling classic Ray Charles’ records such as “Genius Hits The Road”, and the well-appreciated “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music”. It seems that this most recent Ray Charles record has confirmed what many of Rays’ fans have known for years: this artist has been rightfully dubbed “genius” (a title that was conferred upon him by the late Frank Sinatra).

(As I thought about all of the accolades, awards, and attention that Ray has received since his death, I wondered why is it that we sometimes offer up so much support toward those that have left us, and yet sometimes hold back our adulation while people are still alive and with us.)

Click to enlargeThis record (like Ray’s musical career) includes songs that cover a wide variety of musical styles: jazz, blues, big band, full orchestra arrangements complete with strings, R & B, soul and gospel- showcasing the extraordinary abilities and range of Ray Charles (I think that with the exception of the late Frank Sinatra, and his “Duets” and “Duets II” records, there is no other musical artist who has been able to collaborate with such a diverse group of singers, and pull it off as smoothly and as well as Ray had done on this record).

The album begins with the song “Here We Go Again”, which is a tasteful duet with the youthful Norah Jones. This song pairs the smooth voice of Jones, with the familiar and heartfelt crooning of Ray Charles. Billy Preston’s skilled organ playing adds both mesmerizing and haunting touches to this song (some have called Preston the greatest Hammond B3 organ player alive-check out Preston’s work on the “Concert for George” record, a tribute recording of the concert dedicated to late Beatle and solo artist George Harrison).

Diana Krall teams up with Ray on “You Don’t Know Me”, offering the listener an updated version of this classic Ray Charles tune. On this song Ray’s voice is a bit weak, but somehow seems to fit in well with the emotion and pain contained in the words of the song (Ray and Krall sounded so right together it reminded me of the Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole (father and daughter) duet “Unforgettable”).

“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”, the famous Elton John song now sung with Ray, is a tear-jerker, in that the quivering and frail voice of Ray underscores the sad tone and message of this song. This was one of Ray’s last recordings for this album and reminded me that Ray Charles was like a brightly shining light that was starting to flicker and fade. The piano playing and string arrangements on this song are excellent, and underscore the powerful blending of Ray Charles and Elton John’s voices (this is certainly one of the strongest duets on this album).

“Fever” (a duet with Natalie Cole*) is a smooth and well produced version of this fairly well known song, and contains some fun interplay between the voices of this two song-masters doing what they both enjoy doing. Both artists sound like they are having a great deal of fun as they share singing duties (I could not help but think that both Ray and Cole were enjoying this so much that they may have wished they may someday be able to record another song together).

"Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" pairs up Ray with Bonnie Rait*. The tone and emotion that pours out of each singer during this song is clearly heard and felt; the sound of the skillfully played blues slide guitar also serves to underscore the message of this tune regarding love, that although long lost, yet still frequently thought about.

I thought for a moment that I was listening to a Frank Sinatra record when I heard the familiar strings during the opening of the song “It Was A Very Good Year”. Ray Charles and Willie Nelson may seem to be a strange combination of artists for this particular song, but I actually found the results of this pairing to be rather pleasing. This unique version of this song was refreshing, with the signature guitar strumming and unique voice of Nelson contrasted with the orchestra strings and the smooth vocals by Ray Charles.

The combination of blues guitar legend B.B. King* and Ray Charles on the duet “Sinner’s Prayer” is nothing less than incredible! The interchange between these two artists’ voices and the great blues guitar work of B.B. King coupled with the blues piano playing of Ray is very fulfilling. B.B. King seems to be able to draw the very best of out of Ray, and vice versa. The piano, guitar, organ and voices all blend together to form a church choir like experience. Both singers bare their souls for the entire world to hear as they cry out to the Lord in this song of confession (each of these artists are heard crying out for God’s grace and mercy, implying that they know and understand that He is the only one who can provide this for them).

When contrasted and compared with these very enjoyable and well-produced songs, there were others included on this record that just did not quite measure up:

“Sweet Potatoe Pie” is an upbeat song about someone’s long lost love, paring Ray with the familiar voice of James Taylor. This song includes the combination of some good horn playing along with some nice electric guitar work (Although I enjoyed hearing James Taylor singing along with Ray Charles, and appreciated the instrumentation, overall this song did not stand out as anything particularly special).

Michael McDonald’s (former lead singer of the Doobie Brothers, and now a solo artist) duet with Ray on the song “Hey Girl” sounded fair at best (as I listened to these two singers together I thought that if they had chosen a different song to collaborate on the results may have been different, especially after hearing McDonald’s well made and received albums containing reworked versions of Motown Record Company standards).

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, the duet with Johnny Mathis, has some very tasteful string and orchestra arrangements. Although this song was awarded a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals, it somehow lacks the shine and brilliance that characterize most of the other songs on this record.

The duet “Heaven Help Us All” sung with Gladys Knight* was pleasing, but suffered from what I would call a bad case of “1980’s style over-production”. Knight’s and Ray’s voices sound good together (and was honored with the Grammy award for Best Gospel Performance), but the selected material and the production style of this tune left me wanting to hear them collaborate on a different song (hopefully a song with less production to get in the way of the sheer talent of each singer).

Closing out this record is the duet “Crazy Love” sung live at a June 2003 concert performance with Van Morrison (this was the very first song recorded for the album). This collaborative effort showcases the performance abilities and talents of both singers, as they make their jobs seem easy. Each artist sound very relaxed, as they skillfully blend their voices, resulting in one of the records strongest and most memorable performances. The accompanying backup singers round out the sound and seem to provide the impression that you are listening to a church choir.

Click to enlargeYes, Ray was one of the most versatile music artists to ever live, as he was able to perform in an incredible range of musical styles (as evidenced by the sheer volume and range of records that he released during his lifetime). This last record clearly showcases the immense talent and diversity that characterized the art and style of Ray Charles, and how much he enjoyed blending his abilities so very with this talented group of artists.

Before his death, Ray expressed his admiration of the various artists that accompany him on the record, their wide range of musical styles and God’s gifts by saying “We cover it all…. from country to R&B, pop, rock and blues. I’ve never let them put me in a little box, and this (record) expresses that open feeling. A beautiful song sung by beautiful signers is a blessing from God.”

This record also provides several examples of Ray’s unique ability to fuse gospel songs with elements of the blues, jazz and rock that has entertained and amazed his fans for over 5 decades (although, when Ray first started his career he was criticized for doing this). As a testament to Ray’s level of talent and impact on the world of music, he has often been credited with creating what has been labeled “soul” music (this distinction came after Charles’ 1954 recording of the song “I Got a Woman”).

Listening to this album had me hoping that someday soon I would be treated to a “Genius Loves Company II” record, but this does not seem to be possible (unless there is a collection of Ray Charles duets locked away somewhere that were recorded and not yet released?).

Click to enlargeIf you have not yet listened to this record you and in for a treat; if you are a long-time Ray Charles fan and have not yet purchased this record, your Ray Charles record collection will not be truly complete without it!

*Audiophiles should note that this record has been now been released in high quality sound “180 gram vinyl record format” (I grew up listening to vinyl records, and although CD’s are very convenient, I don’t think that they match the overall “warmth”of the sound that is produced by vinyl records).

(*Publicity photos are from the Ray Charles Project. All Rights Reserved.
Movie photo © 2004 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved)

CD INFO
From Concord Records

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

"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.”

BIO
From official project site

“I've recorded with so many amazing artists in my career but never on a duets album of 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, the way we did it in the old days,” 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 this his final album, 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.”

Ray is enraptured by the concept of contrasts, a musical theme that resonates throughout Genius Loves Company. “I love the unexpected,” he says. “I love how we take that old country tune ‘You Don't Know Me'-a hit for Eddy Arnold way before I recorded it in the early sixties-and re-do it with Diana Krall We make it new all over again. Same goes with Norah Jones. She's singing country with me on ‘Here We Go Again'-and singing the hell out of it. And of course having Billy Preston on the Hammond B3-the same Billy who we discovered in the ‘60s when he was a kid-makes it even more of a family.” Rays continues, “I recorded ‘Do I Ever Cross You Mind' in the ‘80s when I was dipping back into country music. Now here comes Bonnie Raitt proving something I've always said-country and blues ain't just first cousins, they're blood brothers.”

On song selection, Ray's approach was relatively easy; “Some of the songs I have been playing for years, some were all time favorites of mine that I'd never recorded, others were songs by the artists that I just really liked, but all were great, with real emotion.” Every track on Genius Loves Company has a special, even spiritual meaning for Ray. “B.B. King is my favorite bluesman,” he says. “One note from Lucille, and you know it's B.B. Well, B.B. and I did a song from deep in my past-‘Sinner's Prayer'-that I recorded during my Atlantic days in the ‘50s but learned from Lowell Fulson when I led his band before I went solo. Brother, that's ancient history!”

Like “Sinner's Prayer,” “Fever” reverts back to a seminal period of American music. “When I decided to sing it,” says Ray, “I got my friend Raelette Mable John to bring me a copy of the version done by her brother-Little Willie John. Peggy Lee made it famous, but Little Willie defined it forever. Now singing it with Natalie Cole, whose father Nat was the role-model for my early career, is the icing on the cake. Like her daddy, Natalie's a singer's singer.”

On the rock side, Ray's company couldn't be more sterling, beginning with Elton John. “I was happy to let Elton show me an Elton song,” Ray explains, “because those songs come from his heart. ‘Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word' is probably his best song. I've heard Little Jimmy Scott do it, and now I'm honored to sing it with the cat that wrote it. “Feel the same about James Taylor. His voice always soothes me. He knows the soft side of the blues. ‘Sweet Potato Pie' is his unique style of sweet soul.”

Ray's connections to the songs are, in part, based on his own history as a listener. “Must have been ten years ago that I heard Michael McDonald's recording of ‘Hey Girl,' that old hit by Carole King. I liked how Michael slowed it down and painted it blue. Liked it so much I started singing it live. So getting to do it with Michael in the studio was coming full circle.” “Hey Girl” was one of four tracks on the CD not recorded at Ray's historic studio in Downtown LA. Instead, Ray and Michael moved to a soundstage on the Warner Bros. back lot to sing live with a 63-piece orchestra (“It Was A Very Good Year” and “Over the Rainbow” are also orchestral recordings).

Genius Loves Company also touches on the issue of friendship. “Willie Nelson has been my buddy for decades. We play chess, we swap secrets, we relate on every level. Now we're singing a song associated with Frank Sinatra-‘It Was a Very Good Year.' Well, the truth is both Willie and I love Sinatra and feel like we've paid the dues to tell the news. We're looking back and loving everything we see.”

“Gladys Knight is another friend. I first knew her with the Pips. We've sung together at concerts and recorded other duets. Gladys is my sure-enough sister. This time I went back to an album I did with Quincy Jones* in the early ‘70s called Message to the People. ‘Heaven Help Us' is my favorite thing from that album, and to revisit it with Gladys takes me all the way back to church, my original home and inspiration.”

Ray continues to celebrate the concept of contrast. “You might not think of me and Johnny Mathis as the same kind of singers, and we're not. But, man, when it comes to ballads we have a common love. Ballads move me. Always have. Always will. I first recorded ‘Over the Rainbow' forty years ago on my Ingredients In a Recipe for Soul album. Singing it with Johnny is a special thrill because he has the ability to drain a ballad dry.”

“Crazy Love,” with Van Morrison, is the only non-studio production on Genius Loves Company. Ray explains: “They asked me to come to New York to help celebrate Van's induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. I went because I see Van as one of the cats that has kept the faith. Like me, he's always himself-he stays true to the music that means the most to him. It meant a lot to sing ‘Crazy Love' on stage with Van that evening. That's what you hear at the end of Genius Loves Company, me and Van live.”

Ray finishes, “You also hear that the title is true-I do love company, especially when the company is comprised of the beautiful singers who were good enough to lend me a hand. I have to tell them thank you. Thank you for making the music sound so good.” And when asked what he finally took away with him from Genius Loves Company, he'll gladly tell you, “I relearned the valuable lesson that good friends are irreplaceable. And when you are with great artists and good friends, having fun making music, the end result is genius in my book.”

During a career that spans nearly six decades, Ray Charles, a 12-time GRAMMY® Award-winner and an original inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has appeared on more than 250 recordings. While he has performed with various artists in the past, Genius Loves Company will be his first full album of duets. At the helm of the recording is producer John Burk. GRAMMY winning producer Phil Ramone also lends his expertise for five of the tracks (“You Don't Know Me,” “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” “Fever,” and “Crazy Love”).

Ray Charles recently received the NAACP Image Awards “Hall of Fame” honor and was named a “Cultural Treasure” by the City of Los Angeles. The area outside his central Los Angeles studios, which was declared an historic landmark, has also been renamed “Ray Charles Square.”

 

Continue:

MUSIC REVIEWS INDEX
comment on the blog here

THE MOVIE "RAY"
Overview
Review by David Bruce
Review by Chris Utley
Review by Kevin Miller
Trailers, Photos
About this Film pdf file
Spiritual Connections

COMMENT

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