Rare Genius by Ray Charles

While Ray Charles was a first-rate interpreter of music of all stripes, he experienced some of his greatest commercial gains tackling country music—first with his groundbreaking 1960s Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music series and again in the 1980s, when he hit the country charts several times.

In celebration of his would-have-been 80th birthday comes an all-new collection, Rare Genius, drawn from unreleased and/or unfinished recordings.

Because the album skews toward the musician’s jazzier side and attempts—with uneven results—to present him in a contemporary light, there’s little here to entice fans of Ray’s country-leaning work. The notable exception is an inspired 1981 teaming between Ray and Johnny Cash (produced in Nashville by Billy Sherrill) on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me, Lord”—a track serious country collectors will covet.

And when they hear a solemn Johnny joining a soulful Ray in pondering “Why me?” they can ask themselves, “Why this song, on this album?”

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