At 60, Ray Charles — an R&B institution, founding father of soul, best-selling country star, and respected jazz pianist — could easily retire on his eternally cool reputation and residuals from his cola commercials. Instead, he’s cut a lively new studio album that has more than a familiar voice to recommend it.
The first half of Would You Believe? is not overly encouraging. With the exception of Billy Preston’s frisky ”Your Love Keeps Me Satisfied,” the sappy romantic mush all but drowns Charles. Then the material shifts gear, and things start hopping. ”Child Support — Alimony” is a witty litany of community property grievances chanted over a funky track; ”Where Are the Stairs?” dredges up a vintage two-timer’s predicament for salty fun.
Synthesizers play an imaginative role here: ”Leave Him” (a bunch of good reasons to dump an abusive man) mixes in brassy electronic blasts, while ”Living Without You” lightens up a touching, jazzy lament with a flittering sound that crosses clarinet and viola. Whatever the album title might refer to, the answer is definitely yes. B-