Back in 1960, Ray Charles's record company stuck out its neck and gave the young singer's latest album the attention-grabbing, borderline-presumptuous title The Genius of Ray Charles. Brother Ray—or Uncle Ray, as he is also called—may not be quite in the empyrean company of Armstrong, Ellington and Parker, the highest-level makers of what might be called American vernacular music. But the years have proved that he does have a kind of genius. It is a burning life-force, a fabulous vitality that keeps him, and his still-incredible voice, rocking hard at 65.
After a few creatively fallow years, Charles bounced back in '93 with My World, and Strong Love Affair is on the same level. The title cut is slow-simmering funk; "Say No More," "Angelina" and "Out of My Life" (not the Michael Jackson song) are strong, passionate ballads. The up-tempo numbers percolate (though the narrator of the leadoff tune, "All She Wants to Do Is Love Me," is just the sort of self-admiring creep the sisters of Waiting to Exhale learn to live without).
Decades have passed since Charles was on pop's cutting edge, and his efforts to stay current—he raps, he digitally samples, he uses synthesized rhythm tracks—are sometimes awkward. Though he's no longer a pioneer, Charles is one smokin' senior citizen. (Qwest/Warner Bros.).