CD REVIEW Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company 

The last of Ray Charles' studio albums is a modest, cheerful collection of duets with a dozen staples from the worlds of pop and blues. Fans of his energetic work in the 1950s and '60s are directed toward the many excellent box sets to come out in the last decade--this one's for the people who want to hear how Charles' voice, even at 73, still separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Next to Charles, Natalie Cole sounds whiny and adenoidal on "Fever," James Taylor is as soulful as a drugged fish on his own "Sweet Potato Pie" and Elton John's whooping croon sounds like a caricature of itself. But for each of these stumbles, there is more than enough stellar material to pick up the slack. Charles and Norah Jones exchange piano and vocal lines almost preternaturally on "Here We Go Again." Likewise, Charles' timeless grumble meshes so well with Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison on their respective tracks, entire albums could (and should) have been dedicated to the pairings. One would hope for a more consistent, powerful release to cap the life of such a musical luminary, but Genius certainly provides a more fitting epitaph to Charles than the Pepsi commercials that would otherwise have been his last high-profile contribution.

--Nicholas Collias

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