Ray Charles - The Genius of Ray Charles (1959), 4/10

If Ray Charles was indeed a genius, it does not show on The Genius of Ray Charles. In fact, he comes across as unremarkable and stiflingly traditional on this record, which would fortunately not always be the case in the coming years. The band’s attempt to match Ray’s vocal individuality is mostly successful, however, and lead to some scattered moments of what I would call “acceptable” rather than “genius”, especially after thirty-seven minutes of overblown horn blasts followed by Charles’ soft piano playing or trombone meanderings, with very few making exception. Ray’s voice is, of course, individually passionate and makes up for a lot of lost ground, but it is no match for the lack of remarkability of the songs and arrangements. The individual horn performances are great, however, especially on a track like “When Your Lover Has Gone”. The second half sports a much more subtle and gentle approach, matching Ray’s vocals with ease and fluency. Another testament to his talent being underutilized for much of the record, even mitigated by contrived strings passages. Ultimately The Genius of Ray Charles is a jagged mess of an album without a unique direction, falling flat in its mediocrity against other big band music of the time. With nothing against Ray Charles or the talented band, it’s been done before, since, and a thousand times better in many cases.