Release Date: 09.14.04
Record label: Concord Records / Hear Music
Genre(s): Classical, Jazz
Okay, This REALLY Pisses Me Off
by: matt cibula
I think a lot of boomer-audience reviewers are going to give this album a free pass, because it's the last studio record by one of the world's great musical geniuses. I also think that a lot of hipster-daddy reviewers are going to hate this from the beginning, "oh who cares about old Ray Charles he was uncool since 1967 ho hum let's go talk about microhouse."
But I wanted this to be good. I trusted that it would be good. I really love Ray Charles, but I'm not IN love with him, if you know what I mean. So you're damn right that I was hoping that this would be good. And it doesn't start out bad at all. If you hate Norah Jones, then a) you're a fool, and b) you won't like the first track, because she's on it and she does a really good simple job playing off Ray's inflections on "Here We Go Again," and your hatred will evaporate like sweat on a hot day and you won't know what to do because hatred is all you know.
What Norah knows is that this is Ray God Damn Charles we're talking about here. Every time he opens his mouth it's worth hearing, because he gives a master class in singing no matter what's coming out of his mouth. Even those Diet Pepsi commercials rocked the house. When you sing with Ray you have a line to walk between stepping all over him (in which case he's gonna cut you) and being afraid of him (in which case you're going to bore everyone to tears). Norah does this correctly, and a few others do it well too. B.B. King ain't afraid of Ray Charles, so their "Sinner's Prayer" cooks. Natalie Cole steps up and helps knock "Fever" out of the park. Gladys Knight on "Heaven Help Us All"? Good enough for me, but I always liked Gladys because she's cute.
But Elton John only knows how to sing one way, and seems pretty confused when Ray steals "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" out from under him in the first two lines. Elton bumps up the bombast, and the arrangement helps him by being boring and epic and orchestral, but all the ribbons and bows in the world won't help this ugly baby of a song turn pretty. Phil Ramone's hackwork production also cannot disguise the fact that Diana Krall just isn't a very good singer; her turn on "You Don't Know Me" sounds shellshocked and soulless.
Why oh why, Randy Waldman, did you arrange "Sweet Potato Pie" so it would sound exactly like my high school jazz band's version of "Birdland"? Was it to take people's attention away from the fact that Ray God Damn Charles was duetting with James Taylor? In fact, why is he here at all? JT hasn't challenged anyone since JTwas riding the charts! Michael McDonald may be an R&B icon, but he still sounds mumblemouthed and corny here. And I love me some Johnny Mathis, but he and Ray doing "Over the Rainbow" is not something I'll ever have need to hear again.
But the biggest waste here is the overblown "faithful" Sinatra arrangement to underscore Ray and Willie Nelson doing "It Was a Very Good Year." This was never in the top 75% of world songs anyway, but here you'd expect that these two septuagenarians would sound poignant talking about being old, looking back on youth, etc. Turns out that was just a crazy dream. Neither one sounds like he feels the song; they sound like they wanna get back to the honky tonk and pick up some hot-esque 55 year old ladies. Whoever came up with this boring depressing tuneless song for these two singers, both of whom are more capable of joy than any other twosome in the world, is probably stillup nights, going "Why oh why did I let that song get onto the album?"
Is it right that the last studio record by one of the world's great musical geniuses kinda sucks? No, it is not right. It is unfair, it pisses me off, it's a travesty. But Ray was just such a genius that this is worth hearing anyway, or buying for your folks as a birthday present so you can burn a copy, or something. I just wish it was better, and there won't be another chance. C'est le mort, c'est le guerre. We move on.23-Sep-2004 7:23 PM