Ray Charles – Genius & Friends (2005)

FrontCover1Atlantic/Rhino’s 2005 Genius & Friends is the end result of a project Ray Charles initiated a few months before his death in June 2004. According to James Austin’s liner notes, Charles called Austin in December of 2003, asking if he could find the masters to an unreleased duets record Ray recorded in 1997 and 1998. Austin found the tapes, but Charles was too sick to work on them, so after his passing — and after his final studio album, the duets record Genius Loves Company, became a number one hit in August of 2004 — Atlantic/Rhino decided to finish off the project, bringing in producer Phil Ramone to oversee the completion of the album. This included bringing in singers to record their parts, since apart from two tracks — a 1994 duet with Diana Ross on “Big Bad Love” and a live 1991 version of “Busted” with Willie Nelson (taken from the television special Ray Charles: 50 Years in Music) — these are all studio constructions, with vocalists duetting with a previously recorded Ray. While not quite the monstrosity it could have been — posthumous duets albums like this always bear an unsettling ghoulish undertow — Genius & Friends is also not a particularly good album either. This isn’t because the pairings are ill conceived — apart from the woefully outmatched American Idol winner Ruben Studdard on “Imagine” (which boasts perhaps Ray’s best vocal performance on this record), there’s nobody here who doesn’t hold his or her own, and Ramone has skillfully edited the new recordings with the existing tapes so it sounds like they were recorded at the same time, even if it rarely sounds as if the vocalists were in the same room together. Rather, the problem is that the productions are caught halfway between ’90s adult contemporary and modern neo-soul, sounding too slick and polished to really be memorable. It’s pleasant enough — and it’s top-loaded, too, with the duets with Angie Stone, Chris Isaak, and Mary J. Blige being among the best cuts — but it’s not as relaxed or appealing as Genius Loves Company, which had the feeling of being a real duets album. This feels like what it is — a professional studio creation. Not a terrible thing per se, but not something that makes for a good album, either.( by Stepen Thomas Erlewine)

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Tracklist:
01. Angie Stone:  All I Want to Do (McKinney/Walden) 4.00
02. Chris Isaak: You Are My Sunshine (Davis/Mitchell) 3.48
03. Mary J. Blige: It All Goes by So Fast (Hirsch/Levy) 5.07
04. Gladys Knight: You Were There (unknown) 3.41
05. The Harlem Gospel Singers / Ruben Studdard: Imagine (Lennon) 3.41
06. Leela James: Compared to What (McDaniels) 3.42
07. Diana Ross: Big Bad Love (Sample/Stephanie Tyrell/Steve Tyrell) 3.42
08. Idina Menzel: I Will Be There (Dakota/Walden) 4.43
09. George Michael: Blame It On The Sun (Wonder/Wright) 4.46
10. John Legend: Touch (McKinney/Walden) 4.40
11. Patti LaBelle / The Andraé Crouch Singers: Shout (Hilden/Walden) 5.10
12. Laura Pausini: Surrender To Love (unknown) 4.13
13. Willie Nelson: Busted (Howard) 2.32
14. Alicia Keys: America the Beautiful (Bates/Ward) 2.58

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