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A soulful swan song with stellar supporting cast

Ray Charles "Genius Loves Company" (Concord/Hear Music) *** 1/2

August 31, 2004|Robert Hilburn

It would be nice to say one of the great voices ever in American pop saved his best for last, but that would be doing a disservice to all those landmark Charles recordings from as far back as a half century ago. Still, the premier stylist saved a lot for a collection that should have a year-end Grammy presence.

Few who ever marveled at the magic of Charles' soulful touch are likely to get through these 12 duets without being profoundly moved at some point.

Things start off splendidly as Norah Jones' sensitive, yearning vocal on the country-shaded "Here We Go Again" is every bit as gripping as Charles' own. You can almost sense the delight in Charles' voice as they harmonize so beautifully.

Not everything soars (some of the material is just too familiar), but most things connect warmly.

Among several other highlights: Diana Krall delivers one of her most personable vocals when she teams with Charles on the country standard, "You Don't Know Me," while Bonnie Raitt adds some sensual fire to her duet with Charles on the bluesy "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?"

And who will be able to resist the wonderfully spirited vocal exchanges between Charles and Van Morrison on the playful "Crazy Love"?

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

-- Robert Hilburn

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