When a host of legendary musicians and contemporary talents combine to make an album under the title Genius Loves Company, you know it is something rare and perhaps exceptional in the modern music scene. Ray Charles’ final song for this album was recorded in March 2004; he died on 10 June. This posthumous record was Charles’ last studio album and it can be viewed as fine tribute to an indelible and highly revered man.
Ray Charles was born impoverished in the segregated south of the USA on September 23 1930. He lost his sight in early childhood but still learnt to nurture his talent for music and composition.
He became a mentor for a young Quincy Jones and in 1948 he formed McSon Trio, the very first group of African-American musicians to have a sponsored television programme in the North-West of America. Over the course of his lengthy career, Charles won 12 Grammy awards. His most famous songs include Georgia On My Mind, Born To Lose, and Hit The Road Jack.
Genius Loves Company is a collection of songs recorded with touching candour and strong emotions. Perhaps the most effective track on the album is a moving take on the Carole King song, Hey Girl, with Michael McDonald, which is achingly delicate and passionate.
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word – with the original singer, Elton John – delivers similar heartfelt emotions and a moving tone. For once, Elton sings in key – you can unequivocally hear and feel the gusto in his voice – while Ray Charles occasionally struggles and sounds frail but his vehemence is still apparent.
Fellow southern American hero BB King plays “his thing” on Sinner’s Prayer, a slender and enthusiastic blues number that recalls the sound of the “olde south”; Stevie Wonder‘s Heaven Help Us All with Gladys Knight is delicate and well-polished, while Crazy Love with Van Morrison is a beautiful, soulful gospel track.
Here We Go Again with Norah Jones shows you just how powerful a singer she is and James Taylor‘s own penned Sweet Potato Pie is a typically smart and jazzy little tune. The much played Over The Rainbow with Johnny Mathis is a surprisingly poignant attempt which sees Charles competently hitting a few high notes.
Country star, Willie Nelson pops up to give a very grand performance on It Was A Very Good Year and Bonnie Raitt joins Charles on a clean version of Do I Ever Cross Your Mind. Fever with Natalie Cole retains the groovy feeling of the original version and You Don’t Know Me with Diana Krall shows that Charles could still sing with soul and strength, even in his final days.
Genius Loves Company has a smooth and well-nurtured feel with every note gaining more resonance, and every moment accounted for. To know Ray Charles was making music during ill-health, and to deliver this finely-crafted and delicious collection is a remarkable accomplishment and a great exploration of his unique talents.