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Music Review: Ray Charles – Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters

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Ray Charles would have turned 80 on September 30, 2010 had he still lived to this day. He reached icon status during his lifetime. His fusion of rhythm & blues with other styles of music has influenced thousands of artists and the history and direction of American music itself.

It all added up to immense popularity and huge commercial success. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986 at its first ceremony. A Lifetime Grammy Award would follow in 1991. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him number 10 on their list of The 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time.

Many of his classic albums have been reissued during the past several years. To celebrate his legacy and 80th birthday, John Burk, who had worked with Charles on his final studio album, Genius Loves Company, which would win eight Grammy Awards and reach number one on the United States album charts, was given the task of searching through 40 years of demos and unreleased material stored at R.P.M. International studios in Los Angeles.

Burk would assemble some of these lost treasures to create Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters. The first unreleased track to be selected was “It Hurts To Be In Love.” It would become a central theme for the album. “I Don’t Want No One But You” quickly followed. It contains a soulful vocal which is backed by a chorus of voices that he was so adept at using to fill in his sound.

“A Little Bitty Tear” finds Charles reaching back into country history for this old Hank Cochran tune he recorded in 1983. He takes it in a blues direction similar to his country/R&B explorations of the early sixties. “Wheel Of Fortune” was a big pop hit for Kay Starr in 1952. His version was recorded 20 years later and features some brilliant piano work to support his vocal.

“She’s Gone” is the type of depressing song that only Ray Charles could make upbeat. Add in such covers of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Isn’t It Wonderful,” and “I Don’t Want No One But You” and you have a stunning new album by Ray Charles.

The only track to veer from the overall theme was retrieved from the vaults of Sony Music. Johnny Cash and Ray Charles had recorded the Kris Kristofferson song “Why Me, Lord” back in 1981. Charles provided the piano work and background vocal to Cash’s lead, which produced a very fine country/gospel marriage.

Some of the tracks were found in a stripped down condition but were enhanced and filled out by some backing musicians without interfering with Charles’ contributions.

Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters introduces 10 unreleased Ray Charles tracks to the world, helping to cement his legacy as an enduring American artist.

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