Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters (Concord Records CRE-32196-02)
(41:43): Love’s Gonna Bite You Back, It Hurts to Be in Love, Wheel of Fortune, I’m Gonna Keep on Singin’, There’ll Be Some Changes Made, Isn’t It Wonderful, I Don’t Want No One But You, A Little Bitty Tear, She’s Gone, Why Me Lord? (featuring Johnny Cash)
Rare Genius is the second posthumous Ray Charles release issued by Concord. But where Ray Sings, Basie Swings edited older live vocal performances with contemporary orchestration, this new release presents studio tracks from throughout his career. The songs were in various states of completion and producer John Burk, who produced Charles’ final studio album Genius Loves Company, added studio musicians to complete the unfinished tracks.
There is some debate about the merits of such efforts. Some prefer having the demos presented as such without the added instrumentation and editing because it’s more “authentic.” However, Burke is more interested in presenting Charles’ artistic vision instead of servering the need for pop music archaeologists who want to hear the fragments instead of the songs.
Burk’s work on this album is tasteful and simply flawless, especially considering he’s trying to assemble with thematic consistency rather than anthologize Ray Charles rarities.
“Love’s Gonna Bite You Back” is an original composition, recorded sometime in 1980. It is an uptempo song and is a good representative of how seamless Charles is able to uniquely blend styles with a horn arrangement from R&B over a disco beat under a jazz melody. The upbeat melody belies the gravitas of the lyrics:
“Take a look at me and you will see I’m at the point of no return
Grab a chair and you will hear a lesson that I have learned
I thought I tamed love and I had it by the tail but I didn’t know how to act
If you don’t you love love like you know you should you know love will bite you back”
Charles’ intonation of the words leads soulful authenticity to the expressions of regret, wisdom and resignation.
“It Hurts to Be in Love” was recorded on September 29th, 1980 and also contains only final mixing for the album. A cover of the 1957 hit for Annie Laurie, Charles included the tune in his set for years. But this is the only studio recording made of the song.
“Wheel Of Fortune” is a cover of the 1951 hit for the Cardinals. Originally recorded as an R&B number, it was also a hit for Kay Star in 1952 in a big-band arrangement. Charles’ recording from 1972 is much slower and soulful. Burk added drums and bass to this recording to flesh it out.
“I’m Gonna Keep On Singin’,” another finished track, is the most recent recording in this collection, dating from 1995. It’s a fun, self-referential tune where Charles stops, speaks, raps, and sings about his career.
“There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” dating from 1990, and “I Don’t Want No One Else But You” from 1991 are the two most heavily treated tracks on the album. Both were simple demos with heavily treated arrangements. Both call into question Burk’s decisions, but the do both fit the LP very well.
The final song on the album is Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord.” He sings back up to Johnny Cash’s lead vocals in an interesting arrangement. The soulful and hymnlike quality of the track makes it an opposite closing number.
While Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters doesn’t augment Charles’ legend (which is considerable), there really is nothing too offensive to detract from it either. It is a well throughout out and competent way of presenting previously unreleased material for the public. Everything which makes Ray Charles a legend (the phrasing, the synthesis of American musical styles, etc) are all present and makes this worth having.