Strong vocals but plain material

Ray Charles

“Ray Charles: Genius & Friends”


* * 1/2


THIS album isn’t a sequel to last year’s Grammy-winning “Genius Loves Company,” though the title hints at it and the concept (a duets collection) is similar.

Although Charles went into the studio with the various vocal partners to record “Company,” most of the guest vocals on “Friends” were added after the magnificent soul singer’s death last year. The new project dates to December 2003, when Charles contacted Rhino Records for help locating some recordings he made in the late ‘90s but never released.

By the time they were found in the vaults, Charles was too ill to discuss what to do with them, so others decided to turn them into duets.

Charles’ vocals are generally stronger than on “Company,” but most of the material on the ballad-heavy album is far too plain and the vocal matchups misfire on some of the worthy songs, including Chris Isaak’s part on “You Are My Sunshine” and Ruben Studdard’s role on John Lennon’s “Imagine.”


Two tracks, however, stand out. Mary J. Blige connects beautifully with Charles on the tender “It All Goes By so Fast,” but it’s Alicia Keys, in a version of “America the Beautiful” from February’s Super Bowl, that most lives up to the soulful standard that Charles established for everyone who has followed in modern pop music.

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