January 6th, 2011
Artist: Ray Charles
Format: CD, MP3
Release date: October 25, 2010
In honor of the 80th birthday of Ray Charles, Concord Records recently released Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters, a compilation culled from four decades worth of demos and other previously unreleased material. Though only 40 minutes in length, the CD is loaded with treasures ranging from soul to country, pop and gospel. And Concord didn’t skimp on the packaging either, contracting the noted soul and R&B authority Bill Dahl to pen the liner notes.
The disc opens with “Love’s Gonna Bite You Back” from March 1980, featuring what Dahl refers to as “a Charles vocal that’s a signature mixture of sandpaper grit and heavenly goodness.” Other standout tracks include “I’m Gonna Keep on Singin'” (featuring the Raelettes), a bluesy cover of the country classic “A Little Bitty Tear,” and a jazzy arrangement of “Wheel of Fortune.” The undisputed highlight of the album is Charles’ duet with another music legend, Johnny Cash, on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord?”—one of the biggest country/gospel crossover songs ever written. Recorded in 1981, for some unknown reason the duet was never released and was only recently discovered in the Sony vaults.
It should be noted that many of the selected tracks existed only as stripped down versions, which had to be re-engineered and overdubbed. Concord organized a team of top-notch musicians to provide the sweetening: guitarists Keb’ Mo’ and George Doering; organist Bobby Sparks; trumpeter Gray Grant; trombonist Alan Kaplan; bassists Trey Henry and Chuck Berghofer; drummers Gregg Field and Ray Brinker; and background vocalist Eric Benet. This should not in any way be considered a remuddling of classic songs, as is so often the case with posthumous tweaking. The musicians stayed true to the original versions, thus beathing new life into these treasures from the vault. All in all, a fitting tribute that will please both soul and country music fans.
Editor’s note: Ray Charles’ scholars should note that the Archives of African American Music, home of Black Grooves, houses the Michael Lydon Collection, which includes all of the interviews Lydon recorded while writing Charles’ biography.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss