Friday, March 15, 2013

Some Thoughts On Ray Charles's Genius Loves Company

This may be slightly contrarian.

The tremendous Ray Charles's best selling record was his last, posthumously released, so close was it recorded to his end, a series of duets nicely titled Genius Loves Company. Joining him are such stalwart singers as Norah Jones, Michael McDonald, Diana Krall, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, a few others. 

Some singers lose their chops with age and Ray Charles, sick at the end of his years, lost his. The sad result is that to a singer his duetting partners tend to carry him. He just, understandably , didn't have it anymore. So why is it his best selling record: nostalgia , sentimentality, genuine reverence for Charles, the popularity of his duet partners, hyping of the record, wanting one last bit of Charles, lack of discernment? Likely all of these reasons and others along their lines. 

When I bought it a few weeks ago, downloaded from iTunes, I had no idea it was Charles's last record. I had never heard of it before, but heard one track of it that I liked and decided to get it, only to be disappointed musically by it overall. 

Still had I known how the entire record played, had I found it musically unprepossessing, I would've bought it in a heartbeat regardless for most of the reasons I briefly just speculated about, save, I hope, for lack of discernment, so much do I love Ray Charles.

One final thought: I'm often in mind of Billie Holiday's last record, Lady In Satin, recorded near the diseased end of her drug shattered life, with only raspy traces of her voice left. But hers is a record of astonishing emotional power, owing, I think, to her channeling her fraught experiences and fraught state of being into her interpretation of what she sang and conveying all that emotionally and dramatically. You feel her pain. 

Not anything close to that in Genius Loves Company. There, at best, we get Ray Charles trying hard to sing up to the songs, but sounding light voiced, not quite up to them, and, as noted, needing the help his duetting partners give him, as though he were leaning on them while they walked together.

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