Genius & Friends is a well-groomed follow up to the Grammy award-winning Genius Loves Company. While this album does not carry the weight that his swan song did, it features some of the best of the best recording artists today. Ray recorded most of the tracks between 1997-98. In 1994 he recorded the excellent "Big Bad Love" with Dianna Ross for the film The Favor and in a live rendition of "Busted" with Willie Nelson in 1991. It seems like an odd pairing, Nelson the country crooner with the soul legend, but it works somehow on the soulful horn filled number.
"Compared To What" is my favorite track on the album. It is a rockin’ expressive tune with Leela James answering Brother Ray’s call. Her voice is very strong and a perfect compliment to Charles. Even though Genius Love Company was a great album, his voice was not as strong throughout as it is on these sessions. Taking into consideration a time span of some five years before Ray became very ill, his voice was still surprisingly strong yet beginning to falter. He sounds much more powerful in these sessions and for obvious reasons. You will not hear any weakness in the man’s voice on this album, he was in fine form, and so were all of his guests.
From a production standpoint there was some wizardry required. It was necessary to add the guest vocals in for some tracks so it would sound like they were actually singing right along with Charles. Thanks to Ahmet Ertegun, Peter L. Funsten, Quincy Jones and Phil Ramone for getting the job done.
Well, the Ray Charles train just keeps on rollin’ down the line and we have yet another album, and one of many that are sure to come as a reminder of his greatness.