Genius Loves Company

Studio Album by released in 2004
Genius Loves Company's tracklist:
Here We Go Again (feat. Norah Jones)
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Sweet Potato Pie (feat. James Taylor)
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You Don't Know Me (feat. Diana Krall)
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Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? (feat. Bonnie Raitt)
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It Was a Very Good Year (feat. Willie Nelson)
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Hey Girl (feat. Michael McDonald)
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Sinner's Prayer (feat. B.B. King)
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Heaven Help Us All (feat. Gladys Knight)
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Crazy Love (feat. Van Morrison)
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Ary My Love (Itoshi No Ary)
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Genius Loves Company review

Very few of us die doing what we love. Genius Loves Company is evidence that Ray Charles did just that. It is the last studio album Ray Charles completed before his death in June 2004. As the title acknowledges with a wink, this is a duets album, which may be a little commonplace as far as latter-day superstar albums go but it puts Ray Charles in a comfortable, relaxed situation that plays to his strengths. Aware that cancer was taking its final toll, he assembled luminaries Willie Nelson, B. B. King, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Michael McDonald and Gladys Knight.

Instead of trying to put Charles in a modern setting, producers John Burk and Phil Ramone go for a clean retro setting with a few guitars, synths, and a rhythm section, occasionally dressing it with an orchestra or some strings. It's not far removed from any of Charles' crossover records from the '60s, and he's also given a strong set of songs, largely familiar pop classics, from Fever and Somewhere Over the Rainbow to Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word and Crazy Love. The end result is modest, friendly, laid-back, and pleasing, one that remains faithful to Charles' music while sounding relatively fresh. Kicking off the disc, Charles revisits "Here We Go Again" from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Keeping the gospel flavor of the original, Norah Jones nicely compliments Charles on this beautiful opening track. "Do I Cross Your Mind?" a bluesy country tune, is fuelled by Bonnie Raitt's shuffling blues guitar and perfectly worn voice. The marriage of Raitt and Charles' voices is probably among the best duets on the album. "It Was a Very Good Year" - one of Frank Sinatra's signature tunes - is nicely brought to life by producer John Burk, with the aged voice of Willie Nelson and a stirring string section. B.B. King lends his voice and guitar to a winning version of Lowell Fulson's "Sinner's Prayer". Gladys Knight takes it up a notch with a stunning rendition of Stevie Wonder's politically charged "Heaven Help Us All", easily the best track on the album.

Charles was influenced by a wide-reaching array of music, and refused to limit his talent. Touching blues, country, gospel, R&B and jazz, Ray Charles was above all a master songwriter. Blessed with a remarkable ability to blend genres, he did so with a virtuoso touch that arguably ranks him among America's greatest songwriters. Genius Loves Company showcases a man who continued to challenge the definition of just who Ray Charles was. Though his voice is clearly aged, and at times ragged, his passion and sincerity nonetheless shine through on each of these songs. Even late in his career, Charles continued to broaden his palette, looking to expand the scope of his music catalog.

The songs and musicians chosen for Genius Loves Company reflect so many aspects of Ray Charles’ music and it sums up his entire career beautifully. The overall effect of these dozen duets is autumnal and smooth. Too often a CD released following the death of a legend generates a sense of mourning among the legend's faithful followers. This collection, however, gives comfort. While we mourn our loss, it grants solace, placing Genius Loves Company' great career in perspective. In the end, it will put a smile on the face of fans and non-fans alike, reminding us of what Ray did, and what he would be capable of if he was still alive.