Picks and Pans Review: Ray Charles

updated 09/13/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/13/2004 01:00AM

Genius Loves Company

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"But now the days grow short/I'm in the autumn of my years." These words, from "It Was a Very Good Year," take on an added poignancy when Ray Charles sings them on this, his final recording before his death, at 73, last June. A who's who of pop royalty, from Norah Jones to Willie Nelson (on the aforementioned "It Was a Very Good Year"), sits in with the soul man known as the Genius on 12 duets that serve as a fitting farewell. Recorded from June 2003 to March 2004, the disc finds Charles still in strong, vital voice, even as his health was failing. He displays a playful sexiness with Natalie Cole on "Fever," while working up a gospel fervor with Gladys Knight on "Heaven Help Us All." While his "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with Johnny Mathis succumbs to sentimental excess, Charles's pairings with Jones on "Here We Go Again" and Bonnie Raitt on "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" get to the country-blues heart of much of his music.

POP

DOWNLOAD THIS: "Here We Go Again"

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