Tuesday, May 17, 2005

John Scofield's Tribute to Ray Charles - "That's What I Say"

As often happens, the death of an artist brings the kind of attention and sales that even the best PR promoters could only hope to provide. Such is the case with Ray Charles. His final album (thus far) "Genius Loves Company" recently became the best selling of his entire career, and his first to reach #1 on the charts (yes, THE Billboard albums chart) since the early 60's. Now, everyone is trying to cash in and get a piece of the action. Now I'm not accusing John Scofield of not having a deep appreciation and understanding of Ray's music, but this sounds like a record company "suggested" project to me.

It's not a bad album, and has some fine playing by Scofield, and also by David "Fathead" Newman (wish he had more solo space though). But something just seems odd about it. The mix is weird at times, more of a pop record approach. It's almost too clean. Even the times when John and the band get down and funky, it still sounds too clean and polished. It lacks that raw, visceral vibe that Ray would bring to a tune, especially in his Atlantic Records years. The guest stars also are a mixed bag. Dr. John is my pick of all of them, he sounds the most natural and at home doing Ray's material. Aaron Neville and Mavis Staples also add their contributions, as well as one VERY unlikely musician, singer and guitarist (and pop sensation) John Mayer! I never thought I'd see David Newman and teen idol John Mayer on the same record!). His track is ok, but it's more of a John Mayer thing than a John Scofield thing, though it's interesting to hear Scofield tear Mayer to bits trading fours!) But all of these guests, even Dr. John, sound like afterthoughts, or just simply out of place. It sounds like a "special guest" album, where things never quite click. The album doesn't really get to flow, the personnel is always changing, Scofield doesn't really get to stretch out, and the all to perfect, everything in its place mix leaves one longing for the original, sometimes raw, but more powerful recordings of Ray Charles himself. It's not a bad record, and I look forward to hearing this group live (especially hoping David Newman makes the tour!), but it sounds


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