Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ray Charles: Genius Loves Company [Concord/Hear Music, 2004]
Accepting help is a great virtue in the dying, and Charles goes out like a lion by surrendering control. The duet partners mean less than the producers--Concord's John Burk augmented by Billy Joel hand Phil Ramone. Their good taste can't stifle Charles, but it can protect him from his own weaknesses, which ever since he got into publishing have included songwriters who owe him points. Instead Charles picks songs for posterity, and even James Taylor's "Sweet Potato Pie" sounds like a standard. But it's crucial that Taylor eases the master's vocal burden, as do Van Morrison, Gladys Knight, and Bonnie Raitt--and Norah Jones, Diana Krall, and Natalie Cole, who's a good half of why this "Fever" is up near Peggy Lee's and Little Willie John's. Elton John and Michael McDonald, on the other hand, end up where Charles often did in his fifties, so set on proving their physical prowess that meaning gets away from them. And Willie Nelson reminds us that past a certain age even the shrewdest singer can't cut it on the wrong day. This is why it's good Charles owned the studio. He got do-overs, and he took them. A-