26 OCT 10 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Ray Charles would be 80 this year and, to celebrate, his fans are getting a wonderful birthday gift. Thanks to Concord's intrepid music detectives, previously unissued recordings have been unearthed and compiled into a new release, Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters.
Concord producer John Burk combed through hundreds of tapes at Charles' Los Angeles studio, selecting gems that gel as if they were planned for this single album. I have to admit I am usually skeptical of "previously unreleased" compilations, there's often good reason why they weren't put out, but this record made me a believer from the opening of the first track. It's testament to the enormity of Ray's talents that even his unused tracks are, well, genius.
Charles loved Country music and injected fresh energy into the genre with his funky, R&B sensibility. One of the standouts is a duet with another musical giant, Johnny Cash, doing a bluesy take of Kris Kristofferson's classic, "Why Me Lord?" It's weird and wonderful to hear Johnny Cash accompanied by Charles' funky Fender Rhodes.
"A Little Bitty Tear," originally recorded by Burl Ives, gets taken to church in Ray's hands. All of the tracks swing hard, even the ballads, with Charles' keyboard and his marvelous heart-centered vocals.
Diehard fans will be overjoyed with this release but it's not just a side note to his already massive discography. Concord has done the man a solid, polishing his already golden image and giving the world another chance to enjoy his singular talent. There will never be another Ray Charles.