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A delicious pairing

Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra -
Ray Sings Basie Swings

4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Dec. 17, 2006
Ray Charles

Review by Brad Walseth

The idea of recording a modern band backing an iconic singer using today's technological studio advances to merge the two into one performance is one that gives many listeners pause. This pairing of the late great Ray Charles with a band he always admired but never recorded with - The Count Basie Orchestra (under the direction of Bill Hughes) seems almost sacreligious - especially since neither Charles or Basie are around to approve or disapprove of the outcome. The results of this type of manipulation in the wrong hands could easily have led to Ray's version of "Look What They've Done to My Song" (included here) hitting too close to home. Fortunately, under the loving care of Gregg Field (with Joe Adams, John Burk, Tom Scott, Quincy Jones, etc...) listeners can relax, enjoy and "Let the Good Times Roll."

Some back information is required: Ray's vocals are from a mid-Seventies European sound board recording. The band mix was muddy and unuseable, but the vocals showed Ray in top form. The tapes were discovered labeled "Ray Charles and Count Basie." It turned out that the tapes contained seperate sets of Charles and the Basie band. But the seed was planted in the mind of John Burk, Concord's head of A&R and producer of the posthumously "Genius Loves Company" recording. Gregg Field, former drummer for Ray Charles and Count Basie was recruited to lead the project, and after untold hours of work using Pro Tools, this project was realized.

Ray Charles was a great singer, whose many recordings are rather inconsistent and don't really do him justice. As such, it is an utter pleasure to hear his voice in a setting of pristine sound, and in his prime singing a solid set of songs. The CD starts off with an incredible version of Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" which proves Charles genius at taking seemingly lightweight material and making it richly rewarding. He does the same with the Gershwins' "How Long Has This Been Going On." His beautiful rendition of the Boudleux and Felice Bryant's "Come Live With Me" (along with Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Buck Owens' "Crying Time") remind us what an important link the artist was in the bridging of cultures through linking country western and the blues.

But it is the stellar versions of favorites "Let The Good Times Roll," Harlan Howard's "Busted," "Feel So Bad," and his signature "Georgia on My Mind" that may attract most fans. (An added bonus is "Every Saturday Night" - a concert favorite that was never recorded.) Ray also covers the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" and it is one of the few Beatles covers I have heard that is worth listening to. His impassioned rendering of this gorgeous tune is a must have. Throughout the recording, Ray's vocals are backed by the Basie group playing arrangements by Quincy Jones, Tom Scott, Shelly Berg and others. Some of these arrangements are a little over the top for my taste, but they do a good job of recreating the Basie band's fat sound (much admired by Charles). Joey DeFrancisco adds delicious organ work, and the new "Raelettes" are led by Patti Austin. Some of the warmth, personality and rawness of the original recordings has admittedly been lost in recreation process, but in the end the improved clarity and care taken by the producers has resulted in what seems to be an impressive and well-meaning tribute - one that should lead more people to discover the work of the talented Mr. Charles.

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