The Resurrection and the Light

Ray Charles compels 12 disciples to tell us just exactly who they are

Part of Ray's power lay in how cunningly he could slip Black pathos into Tin Pan Alley sentiment, a routine that hasn't gotten old, since we're not out of the woods yet per George Clinton's declaration that he who is truly free is free from the need to be free per James Brown's money won't change you but time will still take you out, bling be damned. You also get to witness Brother Ray's grace in collaboration on Genius Loves Company. He lets Elton John and Michael McDonald sing themselves silly on "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" and "Hey Girl," saving his gusto for the word "hardest" on the John tune and not even bothering to come alive until he pimpishly drops a spoken "Come here" on the fade of "Hey Girl." With his women guests he of course becomes the paternal sidearm, Big Daddy on the husky, melodic prowl but leaving a girl plenty of breathing room. The Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, and Norah Jones songs wouldn't sound wrong on their own recent albums, though Jones shows there's more Dinah Washington in her bones than we ever knew. (That's the power of the Ray, Yo. Let you stand next to his fire. All kinds of Dinah might start breaking out on you too.)

Ray Charles 1930–2004
photo: Norman Seef
Ray Charles 1930–2004

What you're not ready for is Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis. Everybody knows there are only two versions of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Judy's and Patti's. Up until now that is, because Johnny and Ray serve a whole other blend of yearning. Neither lost innocence nor the Metropolitan Opera were ever priorities in their worlds. Those in need of subtext get to imagine all kinds of monkeys and loves that dare not speak or be spoken of, all kinds of Harlem shooting galleries and Hollyweirded closets, all kinds of needs and thangs and thangs and needs best kept out of sight because no way they can be kept out of mind, being so dug in under the flesh, the popped skin, where Babylon gets surveillance webcast eyes poked out and only the wings of song can be heard lightly tripping the air via these two deep-thrusting golden-throated songbird brothers of yore, coming together for the first time to form their own kind of Black Millennium centaur, the billygoat's gruff of androgyne. Yeah yeah yeah, that staple of nigra harmonizing, the abject sublime, one more time Mr. Jafa and one more again and peace be upon you Brother Ray and Brother Rick while we're at it and get well quick Brother Ronald they're still holding that date for us at NJPAC, yeah, no matter what a drag, flat on your back and damn near the last real soul man left standing.

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