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Genius Loves Company was Ray Charles' final album just prior to his death. It first entered the UK charts in September 2004, reaching no.18. re-entering and spending one week at no.40 in January 2005 then putting in a third appearance at no.29 the following month.
The musical genre of the album is largely soul/R&B which although Ray was so famously loved for, he always used to refer to himself as a folk singer, explaining that within the USA, soul/R&B is black folk music.
Ray is someone I've always had an admiration for, yet aside from this album, have never owned any of his music. I was particularly attracted to Genius Loves Company because as the album title suggests, Ray duets each track with a sparkling host of infamous soul, R&B, easy listening and country musicians/performers.
Ray's laid-back, soulful voice is as good as ever, harmonising with and complimenting each of the singers accompanying him on each track, even though at the time of this album's release his health was failing badly. He does go a little shaky at times, but surely that's to be expected of a man in his 70s whose health was poor.
The overall mood of the album has a lazy, late night bar-room just before chucking out time feel, where the last straggling drinkers drown their sorrows as they recall golden moments from their lives reminisced through a drunken haze.
Here We Go Again with Norah Jones is wonderful, and her voice coheres marvellously with Ray's, but for me on the next track, James Taylor definitely isn't at his best, nor does his voice gel satisfactorily with Ray's. The song (written by James Taylor) has a tune which doesn't lend too well to a forward soul arrangement, sounding better by James solo in his earlier years with a far more subtle instrumental arrangement.
To me, it appears that both Ray Charles and Diana Krall struggle somewhat with providing strong vocals on You Don't Know Me, neither one of them seeming able to inject the necessary spark to lift this song off the ground. However, I do accept that it is a difficult song to sing, but I infinitely prefer Ray's original version. I am surprised that Diana Krall's input wasn't better, but maybe it was a bad night for her?
Ray opens Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word on a very melancholic note, his voice - although faltering slightly - conveying all the right emotions. Strangely enough, Elton John and Ray do vocally compliment one another very well on this song which I hadn't expected. The little fly in the ointment on this track though is what I feel to be over-orchestration. I'd far prefer to hear it simply performed, using the voices of Ray and Elton, backed by soft piano and maybe some very gentle percussion. The violins actually diminish the song's depth for me because it goes into overdrive. To me, this is a song which should concentrate on vocals rather than instrumentation.
Fever, being the next track, I feel perhaps was played in the wrong key for Ray Charles' voice to me he sounds better on his higher notes. Natalie Cole's rather cheeky yet velvety jazz/soul voice helps lift the song up. It has a rather naughty, sleazy feel, played and sung in cool jazz style. As the song progresses, Ray's voice begins to falter quite a lot about halfway through the song, but he braves the elements, continuing to harmonise with Natalie in the best way that he was able to at the time....he does actually close the song off well though, he and Natalie perfectly and engaging in a little flurry of some rather interesting scat singing.
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind stars with some spine-tingling, raw blues slow guitar, with Ray taking the first set of vocals. There is deep feeling in his voice for this track - maybe a little off-key, but I forgive him for that under the circumstances. Bonnie Raitt then joins in with her delicious voice which is simultaneously smooth and raw, looked at from two different standpoints. Perhaps the tempo of this song is set a little slower than I personally like to hear it, but when both Ray and Bonnie sing together, they harmonise perfectly....this perhaps being one of the better tracks on the album, also containing a rather nice, slow and melancholic slide guitar during the middle-eight.
The opening to It Was A Very Good Year - which incidentally is a song I loathe, whoever performs it - is far, far too orchestrated. Willie Nelson takes the first set of vocals, yet his voice really isn't suited to this song at all. Ray then sings his piece, and I'm afraid he doesn't do it justice at all which is sad, because it makes it even more painful to listen to than usual. As the song moves on, the orchestration becomes more intense and it honestly doesn't sound genuine or heartfelt, as it's grossly overdone, resulting in this probably being the worst track on the album.
Michael McDonald accompanies Ray Charles on Hey Girl, the opening of which is yet again far too orchestrated. Ray takes the first set of vocals, yet he is struggling on some of the lower notes, his voice breaking up quite badly here and there. The backing instrumentals sound like something you'd hear in a lift or in a supermarket during the 1960s. Michael McDonald doesn't fare too much better either, vocally. Both Ray and Michael are far better at hitting the high notes than the low, each of them having very recognizable and distinctive voices, but neither of them performing at their best. The orchestration really doesn't assist this song at all, but there is a good trumpet break in the middle which is its saving grace. The collective outcome of Hey Girl sounds rather out of sync with itself, where we do have Ray making a valiant effort to inject his usual sense of soul into his vocals, but sadly isn't quite making it.
B B King here accompanies Ray Charles on Sinner's Prayer, which opens wonderfully. The mood is laid-back, soulful, sleazy, bluesy with some lovely guitar and piano. Vocally, B B King is in fine form, doing us proud, carrying the first part of the song perfectly....his voice beautifully conveying raw soul. Ray seems inspired, joining in and seeming to slip into his old magic. King and Charles blend wonderfully on this track, their voices harmonising and feeding off of one another perfectly. I love the mood of this track....pure urban soul/blues, sung by two of the very best singers of that genre the music business has ever known.
Gladys Knight joins Ray Charles on the next track, Heaven Help Us All. Ray takes the first set of vocals, again hitting the higher notes far more keenly than the lower ones. Gladys then sings her part perfectly, her voice sounding better than ever. A gospel choir occasionally steps in to take the backing vocals, sounding good, but slightly less raw than I like gospel to be. Like with B B King, Ray's and Gladys' voices blend so very well, almost as if they were made to sing together. The instrumental backing is also quite tastefully done, with plenty of brass, some bluesy piano rolls, lending the whole song a lovely mood which is part soul, part R&B, part jazz, part gospel, part blues....but, aren't those genres of music strongly connected anyway? To me they are!
The next song is Over The Rainbow....a song I honestly, truly can't stand. Johnny Mathis takes the first set of vocals, fully in tune, hitting all the top and all the low notes perfectly - yet, his voice almost devoid of soul. Sadly when Ray joins in, he does try to belt his voice out in a soulful manner, but misses the mark. This is another song on this album which is far too orchestrated, attempting to merge a middle of the road sound with something more jazzy, that really doesn't work. The best part of this track is probably the piano, but for the most part it's drowned out by a violin and brass arrangement that is too tight, too sugary and way too overdone. Definitely not one of this album's best tracks!
The final song on this album is Crazy Love, written by Van Morrison who accompanies Ray Charles. Ray leads in with his vocal part, sounding quite strong in voice and rather gravelly, which I'm not sure suits the song. Van then joins in, on absolutely top form, carrying the vocals yet at the same time blending well with Ray (they have worked extensively together before). The backing band's input is more in the style of the musicians which Van chooses to accompany him on his own live performances and albums, but it is a little overdone. This isn't the best version of Crazy Love around, but it's a great way to close off this album.
For me, even though I probably only like about half of Genius Loves Company, it is a worthwhile collection simply because it was Ray Charles' swan song, plus he gathered together a rather stunning array of performers to accompany him on each individual song. However, not all of the songs are suited to some of the artists, and combining that with Ray's understandably below par performance, this makes for an album which is very hit and miss
Back in the mid-1990s, I was lucky enough to see Ray Charles and Van Morrison perform live together in concert, and I am pleased that he (Van) was chosen to contribute to Genius Loves Company. Their duet on this album is one of the better tracks, but for me the very best are those which Ray performed with B B King and Gladys Knight. The more dubious offerings (such as Ray with Willie Nelson and with James Taylor) actually sound rather shoddy.
Another thing which goes some way towards spoiling parts of this album is the band/orchestra. Here and there are to be found some wonderful piano, trumpet and sax pieces, but I feel such should have been the main instrumental factor of the album, rather than the inclusion of an orchestra. All of the songs on Genius Loves Company I feel aren't suited to orchestration, and for me it would have sounded better if all of the tracks were to have been kept strictly within the jazz/blues/R&B/soul genre, without deviation.
Despite his voice quality faltering on some of the songs, I have no issue with Ray Charles' performance, simply because he was at the end of the line.....and, at the end of his life. Considering his ill health and age, he gave it his all and I feel this album should be regarded for the good parts, which are extremely good....it is easy on a CD to flip through the bad stuff, and enjoy the best parts which really are well worth listening to.
In a valiant attempt at being honest with myself, I must only award three stars. The reason for my rating being that low has more to do with the singers Ray Charles was incompatible with, rather than his own performance. Were the album comprised entirely of duets with Van Morrison, Gladys Knight and B B King, I quite likely would have awarded five stars.
At the time of writing, Genius Loves Company can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £2.98 to £15.37
Used: from 1p to £5.99
Collectible: Only one copy currently available @ £4.24 (used)
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
If you are looking for an album of classic songs sung by the cream of the crop talent then this one is for you. Imagine if you will your favourite singers and arguably some of the best singers in the world today and most of them will be featured on this album, Genius Loves Company. The genius is of course, the unmistakable voice of the great Ray Charles, his soulful, rhythm and blues voice shines through on this album and don't think you will find a more recognisable, beautiful voice.
According to an article I read, recording sessions for the album took place between June 2003 and March 2004 and the album was released posthumously in August 2004 as Ray sadly passed away in June 2004. On February 2, 2005, Genius Loves Company was certified triple-platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America following sales of over three million copies in the United States and I can definitely see why it did so well.
You know all the songs and find yourself singing along to them immediately. The songs are old classics yes but I think the collaborations have made them current and fresh and relevant for this time period. A lot of the songs have been given quite an unbeat tempo and are quite jazzy although there are still some slow classics on this album, most notably Over the Rainbow sung by Johnny Mathis. I love collaboration songs as they always differ slightly from the original but I think for the better adding their own special twist to the classic words and melody. This album is no different. For me there are no weak links on this album, all the voices that Ray has chosen to work with blend so well together.
My favourite track is track 2, Sweet Potato Pie. It's such a sweet song, really pretty and done really well. Charles and James Taylor who features on this track seem to be having a really great time with the song and it shows in this version. Other artists on this album feature Elton John, Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Gladys Knight. The track listings are as follows:
1."Here We Go Again" (feat. Norah Jones)
2."Sweet Potato Pie" (feat. James Taylor)
3."You Don't Know Me" (feat. Diana Krall)
4."Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" (feat. Elton John)
5."Fever" (feat. Natalie Cole)
6."Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" (feat. Bonnie Raitt)
7."It Was a Very Good Year" (feat. Willie Nelson)
8."Hey Girl" (feat. Michael McDonald)
9."Sinner's Prayer" (feat. B.B. King)
10."Heaven Help Us All" (feat. Gladys Knight)
11."Over the Rainbow" (feat. Johnny Mathis)
12."Crazy Love" (feat. Van Morrison)
Ray Charles was one of soul's pioneers, he was synonomus with the soul genre for half a century. The blind pianist had a huge influence on future artists and his huge impact will be remembered for decades to come. He performed with many of his favourite artists and before his death he recorded a final album of duets with some of his favourite artists old and new.
**Genius loves company**
This is the album he recorded before his death, he personally chose the contributions and played with some of the biggest names in music today. Without further ado here is my review of the album Genius Loves Company which was released in 2004 and released by Concord Records and Hear Music.
1.) Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones - 3:59
This is a fantastic start to the album, you can imagine this being performed in a smoky jazz cafe, Norah opens the track with a sweet vocal performance and then Ray comes in with his distinctive voice. This is a really superb laidback track which starts off the album as it means to go on.
2. "Sweet Potato Pie" with James Taylor (Taylor) - 3:47
This is a duet with James Taylor that works well even though the two vocal styles are so different, the musical backing is particularly good on this track. the electric guitar is key to the feel of this smooth track, both singers have very distinctive voices and that really comes through here.
3. "You Don't Know Me" with Diana Krall (Arnold/Walker) - 3:55
No this is not an impression of Jordan but a superb ballad featuring jazz/country singer Diana Krall. Her voice adds a great quality to the track. her tone is perfect for this track and it proves to be one of the best on the album. A lovely string backing adds a great touch to the track too.
4. "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" with Elton John - 3:59
This is a fabulous version of one of Elton John's most recognisable tracks. From the string opening to the tender performance from Ray Charles this is a great version. It has such an intimate quality that stops you in your tracks with it's beauty, one of the best versions of this song.
5. "Fever" with Natalie Cole (Cooley/Davenport) - 3:30
This is a great jazz duet with Nat King Cole's daughter. Ray opens the track with his distinctive voice and the jazzy backing shuffles along until Natalie comes in with her clear tone. A great version of one of the most well known tracks of all-time and one of the most covered too.
6. "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" with Bonnie Raitt - 4:34
This is a great duet which uses both voices very well. This is such a soulful track that you should just sit back and relax while listening to this song. Bonnie Raitt's county voice shows it can break down genre boundaries. This is a fabulous duet which does justice to the great song.
7. "It Was a Very Good Year" with Willie Nelson (Drake) - 4:59
You may know this track from The Simpsons parody where Homer sings about buying beer when he was seventeen. I love the string intro from the orchestra and then Willie Nelson's voice comes in with his country twang. This track works very well and is one of the best versions of this song.
8. "Hey Girl" with Michael McDonald (Gerry Goffin/Carole King)5:15
Michael McDonald brings a great soul element to this song and this is a fine version. Not one of his best songs but he teams up with Ray to make this song work well. Not the best on the album but works well enough.
9. "Sinner's Prayer" with B.B.King (Fulson/Glenn) - 4:25
This is a fantastic version from two legends of music, This has just such a spine tingling feel with BB King's expressive screams and the distinctive voice from Ray Charles, This is one of the best songs I have heard from Ray Charles and BB King just adds a superb touch to the song. Two legends.
10. "Heaven Help Us All" with Gladys Knight (Miller) - 4:32
This track is with another music legend. Gladys Knight adds a great touch to this track on the album with her powerul voice and superb clear tone. It just sounds like they had such a great time making this song that the song is so much better for it. A wonderful track.
11. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" with Johnny Mathis - 4:54
This is a great version of this well known track which has been done by too many artists. I prefer Eric Clapton's version to this but it is still a great version but just loses a little quality with Johnny Mathis who doesnt have that vocal identity that Ray Charles has.
12. "Crazy Love" with Van Morrison (Morrison) - 6:14
This is one of Van Morrison's most well known songs and this is a very good version of it. I am not a fan of Van Morrison but he does a decent enough job on the version to make it a decent version. In my opinion the best version of this song is done by Brian McKnight but this is by no means a bad version.
This album Genius Loves Company is a fine collection of some fine duets with some of Ray Charles' favourite artists and with all the other artists who have performed his other songs in special tv performances it is not hard to see how much this man influenced the music industry over the last fifty years or so. His influence will last long in the memory and his music will go on being played long after most of these artists are gone. Now that is the sign of a truly great artists. Ray has gone down as one of the great performers of all time and his legacy proves that,
Originality: Definitely a cut above the rest
Quality and consistency of tracks: Mixed
Cover / Inlay Design and Content :Good
After his unexpected death, Ray charles left 60 years of his time on his record label, making timeless music, with mixture of jazz, blues, gospel, country, soul, and rock n roll.
There was something very memorable about his unforgettable performances, he truely inspired alot of modern artists with his music.
This new released album is duet album...every song is a duet with the worlds hottest soul/jazz singers: Nelson, Norah Jones, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt and many more.
it has to be said that he does shine the most with his duets, for example of a very heart moving duet is "Here We Go Again" feat the new shining talent Nora Jones, a soul beat ballad, a beautifull romantic recreation.
The duet with James Taylor "Sweet Potato" which shifts into neo-soul sounds, with gitar riffs and the very unmissable saxaphone.
"You dont know me", is a great orchestra set piece, with the piano sounds...smoothing the atmosphere. This song features Diana Krall and is a good album track.
The suprising element in this album is the song that features Elton John!, yep you heard right...i wouldnt consider elton to be producing the same style of music as Ray Charles...But however the track does actually work suprisingly well, the song is "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word", reminding those those who forgot how soulful elton is, or can be.
The impressive Natalie Cole also stars along side ray charles in "Fever". This is a bit of a faster paste jazzy track.
Nelson and Ray on Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year," also a great recreation, great vocal arrangment...a great song. This song really makes your heart stop for a second!.
The great BB Also features in "Sinner's Prayer", the best blues brothers coming really makes this track lift to a whole other level, great master piece.
Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis and Van Morrison also contribute on this album, making it a must buy for any blues fan, especially ray charles fans.
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
Shelf Life: Average
How does it compare to the artist's other releases: Good
How does it rate alongside the competition: Outstanding