Genius Loves Company
Genius Loves Company is the album of the year… according to the recording academy.
Yes, it has Charles doing duets with some of the industry’s top performers, including Elton John, Willie Nelson and B.B. King. Yes, it is Charles’s final album. And yes, he is a legend. There is no denying that. But this is not the album of the year, compared to two of the other four albums that were nominated. Let me explain.
Green Day, Usher, Alicia Keys and Kanye West all had releases that were nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy along with Genius Loves Company. Throw out Usher; that album will be forgotten before the summer. Keys’ album is good, but not as good as Charles’s. That leaves West and Green Day. West’s debut is groundbreaking for rap because it is not the pimps and hoes, cars and dough that defines so much of today’s rap. Still, Kanye’s album has its downfalls. Green Day, however, made a career-defining album where every song builds on the previous until it hits the nine-minute climax that caps off this rock opera. Charles’s album does not come close to that. But to be fair, his album was not supposed to be operatic or genre-defining. He had already done his share of genre-defining and genre-bending. He didn’t need to prove himself; he hadn’t needed to for decades. Genius Loves Company was Ray getting together with some high-profile friends to record some traditional tunes and have some fun. It’s obvious that everybody enjoyed being in the studio with Ray, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. Yet, nothing compares to American Idiot in the Album of the Year category. Even so, Genius Loves Company is an album that should not be overlooked, either.
Elton John joins Ray on “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.” A track that is very reminiscent of “Georgia on my Mind,” it is Charles’s best song in his expansive repertoire. It is absolutely heart-breaking.
B.B. King and his guitar Lucille spice up “Sinner’s Prayer” and add some much needed variety to this album.
The only relatively new artist to join Ray is Norah Jones on the award-winning “Here We Go Again.” For those who haven’t heard this track, it could have come straight off of either of Jones’s albums. It is the perfect opening track for this album, showing that there are some great collaborations ahead, and that the album is a ballad-heavy affair.
That is the one thing that brings this album down. Ray Charles was a master at melding genres, and to have an album with this much talent performing so many ballads is a bit disconcerting. I was expecting to hear at least one song with the energy of “What’d I Do?” But nothing. Add a horrific rendition of (gag) “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” with the elderly Johnny Mathis, and Genius Loves Company becomes a less-than-perfect album.
Genius Loves Company is a great farewell to a music legend. But it is not the album of the year. That honor belongs to Green Day’s American Idiot.
Concord Records: www.concordrecords.com