Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company

by / 07/03/05

The legendary Ray Charles is hot at the moment. And so he should be; Jamie Foxx has won the Best Actor Oscar for his intuitive channeling of Charles in Ray. If Brother Ray interests you, you should see it. You should also check out the accompanying soundtrack album – enjoy those great, lively tracks such as Hit the Road, Jack, What I Say, Georgia on My Mind and Hard Times.

Charles beautifully combined jazz, blues, gospel, soul, country n’ western, pop and rock.

Before his death last year – death be not proud – Charles was working on a series of duets with commercial artists. Due to his age, Charles is not at his best, but there are moments of genius; the problem is not Charles himself but his lacklustre, below par or frankly mediocre company. It’s only slightly hyperbolic to say Ray’s coupling with the insufferably schmaltzy, pompous Elton John on ‘Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word’ is an act of cultural barbarism. There are other bizarre choices, such as a cheesy version of ‘Over the Rainbow’.

The album has its moments. On the beguiling ‘Here We Go Again’, Norah Jones is sultry and spunky. “Here we go again/ The phone will ring again/ I’ll be her fool again, I will/ One more time.” Ray knows what he’s singing about. ‘Fever’, with Natalie Cole, slithers funkily and delectably, also raising the album’s mercury. Charles has a warm, easy rapport with these two, as he does on ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ with BB King. These two great artists, close friends, obviously enjoy working with each other. Ray lays down some of his classic, old-school piano beats on this uber-bluesy track. However, these moments are the exception to the rule.

This dubious cash-cow exercise is now trying to claim last album gravitas. It doesn’t deserve such status. Who are you going to believe? Gil or eight Grammys (including album of the year)?

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