There are few musicians in modern pop music who can truly be called "genius," but in the case of Ray Charles, the term applies. His innovative singing, drawing on both gospel and pop, has inspired legions of great singers. With a long, prolific recording career that began in 1949, Charles became perhaps the finest interpreter of pop music in the postwar years. A gifted pianist, songwriter, and vocalist, he was a master of every style he attempted, be it R&B, country, blues, or soul. The man who wrote such indelible R&B classics as "I Got a Woman" and "What'd I Say" passed away in 2004, a legend several times over. The same year, a remarkable performance by Jamie Foxx in the biopic RAY served as a fitting cinematic eulogy.
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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