GENIUS LOVES COMPANY
With the recent release of Ray in theaters, people are being properly reminded of what a talented artist he is, and they are going out and buying “Best of” compilations and the movie’s soundtrack. While those albums reflect on Ray’s past work, I would recommend the latest addition to his canon, Genius Loves Company.
These final recording brought Ray together with artists from genres that he traversed throughout his career: R&B, jazz, blues, gospel, pop and country. Norah Jones opens the star-studded affair with the country-tinged duet “Here We Go Again” about a couple stuck in a bad relationship. Billy Preston has a wonderful Hammond B3 solo, and he appears on two other songs. Other artists who sing with Ray are Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, Gladys Knight, and Johnny Mathis. Some of the tracks might sound too middle of the road in their arrangements for some listeners, but you can’t expect a 73-year-old man to be cutting edge.
Ray covers a range of emotions throughout the album. Two tracks where that is most evident are when he is joined by the song’s original artist. He is on cloud nine when he sings about being in love during “Sweet Potato Pie” with James Taylor. On Elton John’s “Sorry Seem To Be The Hardest Word,” his voice sounds fragile and you can hear a lifetime of broken hearts.
Two fellow elder statesman of music, who are also close friends of Ray, pick very appropriate songs, and it’s no surprise they are the two of the best on the album. Willie Nelson appears on “It Was A Very Good Year,” a song of an old man reflecting on the good times of his life. It opens with a big string arrangement like Sinatra’s version, but when Willie sings during the opening verse his trademark guitar alone accompanies him. It’s moving to hear Ray sing the lines “But now the days grow short/I’m in the autumn of the year.” B.B. King appears on “Sinner’s Prayer” which is evident from the very first guitar note. On this song, they ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and promise to do better, which they have probably promised the Lord many times before. Working with B.B. inspired something in Ray because this track contains his best piano playing on the album.