There are few artists who we can indisputably carry the title of “legend” in conversation, and even fewer who manage to earn their title by crafting and playing popular music. At the time of his death in June, Ray Charles was still working to put the finishing touches on what would be his final recording. The finished product, a compilation of duets fittingly dubbed Genius Loves Company stands as a testament to Charles’ abilities as a vocalist, pianist and innovator in pop music and culture. Combining past hits (“Fever,” “You Don’t Know Me”) and a broad range of guest vocalists (Natalie Cole, Willie Nelson, Elton John) Genius works as a platform to showcase not only Charles’ talents as a performer, but also his mastery of songwriting.
Like his own musical style and influences, Genius Loves Company borrows from a multitude of genres to create a diverse 12-song resume of sorts. Charles’ duet with Gladys Knight on “Heaven Help Us All” illustrates what would be the almighty gospel choir. Meanwhile the opening track with Norah Jones titled “Here We Go Again” is simultaneously mournful and sultry, pairing Jones’ sleepy coyness with Charles’ expressive rasp to create one of the album’s most enjoyable moments.
Unlike most duets, few of the album’s tracks come across as contrived or overworked. While “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (with Elton John) almost gives the impression that the “Rocket Man” himself is trying too hard, other standouts, like “Crazy Love” (with Van Morrison), find Charles and his contemporaries matching each other note for note in a manner that is more complimentary than competitive.
Despite the untimely loss to the music world that the album signifies, “Genius Loves Company” paints the picture of a brilliant, spirited and capable musician, creating with it a memorable and worthy close to one of the most impressive and significant careers in American music history.
[Aly Comingore likes to spend her alone time coloring in her “Shark Tale” activity book.]