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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Review: Ray Sings, Basie Swings

Despite the title, this isn't really a recording of Ray Charles singing with Count Basie. The thought of those two titans of music collaborating is a pretty tantalizing prospect so when the producer responsible for "Genius Loves Company" discovered a 1973 tape of Ray Charles from a gig he shared with the Count, he decided to make it happen. Taking Ray's vocals from the otherwise unusable concert recording, he got the modern Count Basie Orchestra to lay down the tracks and "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" was born.

On the surface, it really looks like a grave robbing Frankenstein job going on here. Basie has been dead since 1984 and this Ray Charles tape is over 30 years old. The fact that Charles died in 2004 and had one of his biggest years in decades only adds to the feeling of exploitation.

Oddly enough, this album works in spite of it self. Mind you, this is nowhere near as good as an actual meeting of Charles and Basie would have been, but for a vocal track recorded with a different band, laid on a new track from a ghost band, this is a lot more enjoyable than it should be.

It helps a lot that Ray was in fine form on that night in 1973. He's got a lot of energy and sounds like he's having a lot of fun. Though it wasn't intended, Ray's style actually fits in well with the Basie sound which the current orchestra does a pretty good job of emulating. I don't think ghost bands are ever as good as the same band with their leader, but this isn't bad.

The end result is an album that is sure to make purists gag but if you can get past the feeling of necrophilia, is actually a fun listen. No, it's nothing essential, but it's far from the travesty it probably should have been.

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