Genius Loves Company (10th Anniversary Edition) By Ray Charles

December 8, 2014

a14

Genius Loves Company is the last studio album of Ray Charles’ career.  Recorded between June, 2003 and March, 2004, it was released August 21st, about three months after his death.

There is an old saying to leave them wanting more. Genius Loves Company reached number one on the Billboard album chart and sold in excess of three million copies.  It also won eight Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year and Record Of The Year.

The album has now been reissued to celebrate its 10th anniversary. There are two bonus tracks plus a second disc titled “The Making Of Genius Loves Company.” The one hour documentary features unreleased video from the actual recording sessions, interviews with some of the guest artists, and a history of the albums’ origins. However, no matter how much extra material is included, the original album remains the centerpiece as it was one of the stronger releases of Charles’ long career.

Genius Loves Company is an album of duets. Artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight, James Taylor, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, and Norah Jones all team up with Charles with stellar results.

“Here We Go Again” with Norah Jones is one of those tracks that is just about perfect. It is two generations of rhythm and blues artists meeting in the middle. They both play keyboards and harmonize well together. The track won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance.

The other Grammy winning track, for Best Gospel Performance, was “Heaven Help Us All,” with Gladys Knight.  It is an elaborate production as a full choir and horns fill out the sound. They trade vocal leads that elevate the song.

Diana Krall has a very different vocal style than Ray Charles. He recorded the old Eddy Arnold song “You Don’t Know Me” for his break through Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music LP back in a 1962. Here, their vocals play off of each other as they deliver a subtle and delicate rendition.

Willie Nelson and Ray Charles have joined forces in the past. Nelson has a world-weary voice that is perfect for “It Was A Very Good Year. There is an orchestral background, complete with strings that allow for a relaxed vocal delivery.

Bonnie Raitt helps take “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” in a different direction with a slide guitar performance.  The bluesy track is a good setting for them to trade vocals and harmonize.

The reissue of Genius Loves Company proves that good music is always good music. The additions are a nice touch but if you own the original release that may be enough. However, if you missed this album ten years ago, then it is a must listen.


I Can’t Stop Loving You By Ray Charles

August 9, 2014

 

It is unknown what early country star Don Gibson was thinking when he wrote “I Can’t Stop Loving You” during late 1957. He did not consider it strong enough to be a lead single and so it became the b-side of “Oh Lonesome Me.” While the a-side reached number one on the Billboard Magazine Country chart, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” became a Top Ten hit in its own right.

Enter Ray Charles, who by 1962 was an established star in the United States. He was gathering songs for what would become his signature album and one of the seminal releases in American music history. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music fused country and rhythm & blues music into a unique mix that was a huge commercial success with the mainstream pop audience.

The lead single from the album was “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and it would become the biggest hit single of Ray Charles’ long career. Fifty-two years ago, it topped the Billboard Pop Singles chart and there it remained for five weeks.

E


Hit The Road Jack by Ray Charles

July 21, 2014

 

The career of Ray Charles (1930-2004) spanned almost six decades, and by the time of his death he was considered an American icon.

One of the most influential artists in American music history, his fusion of soul, blues, country, and gospel proved unique and provided a template for generations of artists who followed him. Even more important, perhaps, Charles was among the first black recording artists to consistently cross over to become popular with a white audience.

He began his career in the mid-1940s, but first rose to prominence during his tenure with Atlantic Records, 1953-1959, which produced such hits as “I Got A Woman” and “What’d I Say.” However, the best was yet to come during his time with the ABC label, 1960-1967, in which he sold tens of millions of albums and changed the fabric of American music.

“Hit The Road Jack” was written in 1960 by Percy Mayfield and has been recorded by dozens of artists. It is Ray Charles’ version that remains the most memorable, though, and is considered one of his signature songs. Released as a single on September 11, 1961, it reached the top of Billboard’s Pop Singles Chart on October 9 of the same year, remaining in that position for two weeks. The song also topped Billboard‘s Rhythm & Blues Chart for five weeks.

It had an up-tempo beat that combined a soul and rock ‘n’ roll sound. He used question and answer lyrics a number of times during his career. The protagonist is being told to hit the road but can’t quite believe what he is hearing, so he asks, continually, to hear it again.

Margie Hendricks, formally of the girl group The Cookies and a member of The Raelettes, was the prominent female voice. The chorus and melody are unforgettable as they drive the song along, but it was the use of the bass lines that gave the song its foundation and helped the story find its authenticity.

It was and is a rare song of rejection that makes you feel good. The song won a Grammy Award and was ranked among The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time by Rolling Stone.  It was a song and performance that is still instantly recognizable today to many music fans.

Charles ultimately placed 76 singles on both the Billboard Pop and R&B Charts, but few were better or more memorable than “Hit The Road Jack,” which topped the American music world 50 years ago this week.


Georgia On My Mind by Ray Charles

June 19, 2014

 

“Georgia On My Mind” was written in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorell. The song was about and named for Carmichael’s sister Georgia. His recording that year would be the first of dozens for the song during the next three decades. It would become a well respected but minor jazz classic.

All that would change in 1960 when Ray Charles recorded it for his The Genius Hits The Road Again album. The track would be released as a single in late September and on November 11, 1960, topped The American singles chart for one week. It was the first number one pop hit of Ray Charles’ career. Rolling Stone Magazine would rate it at number 44 on their list of The Greatest Songs Of All Time. The state of Georgia made it their official song in 1979.

His version is just laid back and flows easily along. It remains one of the best performances of his career or anyone else’s for that matter.

It was also an important song as it helped to integrate the pop charts as Charles was known for being a rhythm & blues artist at this point in his career but now had taken a big step toward mainstream success.

“Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles remains an iconic performance and deservedly ruled the American music world for one week beginning November 11, 1960.


Ray Charles Forever by Ray Charles

October 8, 2013

51ZM2cEoFFL__SY300_

Every once in a while a record company has a good idea and so it was with the latest Ray Charles release. The United States Postal Service honored Ray Charles on September 23, with the release of his image on the Music Icons Forever Stamp Series. One day later Concord Records released Ray Charles Forever, a CD/DVD package.

Since his death, much of his music has been reissued and while most Ray Charles music is worth a listen, the material collected here is available elsewhere. Songs such as “A Song For You,” “Ring Of Fire.” “Till There Was You,” “Imagine” “Isn’t It Wonderful,” and his classic “America The Beautiful” provide a nice taste of his music from different periods of his career. On the other hand many of his signature albums have been re-released and are probably a better starting point for exploring his music but the songs here are a nice introduction.

The only surprise is the debut of the previously unreleased studio track, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” This cover of the George and Ira Gershwin composition is a treat as it finds a relaxed Charles at his near best.

The DVD is far more interesting for the Ray Charles fan. Included are live performances of “Imagine” from the 1998 Goodwill Games, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” from Earth 1992, and “A Song For You,” recorded at the North Sea Jazz Fest, 1997. It is interesting to compare these live performances to the studio tracks contained on the CD. Also included are interviews taken from the BBC’s Live In London and Norman Seeff’s “The Session Project.” There are no startling revelations but they are interesting at least once.

The career of Ray Charles spanned just less than six decades, nearly 100 albums of different types, and over 10,000 concerts. He is remembered as an American icon who was one of the first rhythm & blues/soul performers to find massive mainstream success. Ray Charles Forever is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his talent and music.


I Can’t Stop Loving You 45 by Ray Charles

July 15, 2012

It is unknown what early country star Don Gibson was thinking when he wrote “I Can’t Stop Loving You” during late 1957. He did not consider it strong enough to be a lead single and so it became the b-side of “Oh Lonesome Me.” While the a-side reached number one on the Billboard Magazine Country chart, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” became a Top Ten hit in its own right.

Enter Ray Charles, who by 1962 was an established star in the United States. He was gathering songs for what would become his signature album and one of the seminal releases in American music history. Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music fused country and rhythm & blues music into a unique mix that was a huge commercial success with the mainstream pop audience.

The lead single from the album was “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and it would become the biggest hit single of Ray Charles’ long career. A half-century ago this month it topped the Billboard Pop Singles chart and there it remained for five weeks.

The phrasing on the opening verse is one of the most memorable of the era. The piano, the lush string arrangements, and the soulful vocal floating over the top transformed the old traditional country song into a modern masterpiece. Rarely has a song sounded so passionate while still having the ballad retain the gentle nature of the lyrics.

It is easy to forget the impact of the song, as Ray Charles created new rules for what would become popular music. He was a black man who sang a country song and made it palatable for white audiences. His adventurous nature would set the tone for the generations of musicians that followed.

When Ray Charles passed away during 2004 at the age of 73, he left behind one of the superior catalogues of music in American history. His list of memorable performances is almost endless but “I Can’t Stop Loving You” ranks with the best and it ruled the music world at this period of time 50 years ago.


What’d I Say 45 by Ray Charles

May 23, 2012

Today, Ray Charles is remembered as an American music icon. His ability to fuse thythm & blues with country and pop influenced generations of musicians plue made his music popular with white audiances. He places 76 singles on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart in addition to selling tens of millions of albums.

“What’d I Say” was a cross between a preacher giving a sermon and someone talking about their latest sexual adventure. His vocal iterplay with his female backing group, The Raelettes, created a tension that kept the listener enthralled.

The single was the first big pop hit of his career. Released during the summer of 1969, it reached number six on the pop charts. When this song hit the radio airwaves, the career of Ray Charles was about to take off.