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Record Rating: *****

Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company - EMI Music Most singers or musicians would consider themselves fortunate to have found success in one genre of music. Ray Charles absorbed the sounds he heard in the blues, gospel, pop, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, and early rock and roll, rearranged them in his head, and helped create what would come to be known as soul. Heís been rightly called The Genius as well as The Father of Soul: for his influence runs among a wide variety of performers, both white and black Ė from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson.

In 2004, Ray Charles passed away suddenly at the age of 73, but his story doesnít end here. Completed just months before Charles passed away, later that year his final effort hit the stores. And itís finally hit the Indian shores in a big way after it captured a record-tying eight trophies (including three technical prizes for its producers and engineers) at the recent 2005 Grammy Awards. Titled Genius Loves Company, the landmark CD is the manís 250th recording effort, and Ray Charles finds himself paired up with some of the biggest names in the music scene. Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole, Michael McDonald, James Taylor, B. B. King, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, Johnny Mathis and even Gladys Knight all show up to sing and have a swinging time with the Father of the Rhythm & Blues. Heís in fine form, adapts the twelve songs here to his inimitable style, and each guest finds a way to accommodate himself or herself to the master voice.

The good cheer and the top-notch singing that prevails the album throughout its sixty minutes, seems to testify to the respect that Charles engendered as a performer. He touches on his own standards over here beginning with You Donít Know Me (a song Elvis recorded to great fan fare) paired up with Diana Krall to Do I Ever Cross Your Mind with Bonnie Rait and finally the years Record of The Year winner (at the recent Grammy Awards) Here We Go Again with Norah Jones. He then moves onto touchstones from his guests' careers starting with a duet with Elton John on Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word before teaming up with Van Morrison to do his Crazy Love.

To round the album off, Charles teaming up with Willie Nelson for the song It Was A Very Good Year takes on an affecting poignancy. The song actually was a number 1 hit on the charts for Frank Sinatra in the mid-sixties and the ballad concerns a man in the autumn of his years reminiscing about times in the past that were special to him. In this new version, the words get much too close to home. The inherent sadness in the old timers as they perform and contemplate the end of their lives is overwhelming; itís hard not to get a lump in your throat. There may have been more suave and debonair singers out there, but Charles ranked up there as the coolest cat of them all, with just a bit of a rough edge about him to lend to his authenticity. His coolness came from way down deep inside. For you could hear it in his impassioned vocalizing on just about anything he had ever recorded. Genius Loves Company is no exception. Two thumbs up all the way.

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