The trouble with most boxed sets is that there isn’t enough material to flesh out three CDs without filler. Not this one, though. Even with 101 songs spread over five discs, Ray Charles’ Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection is meaty, lean and packed with hits.
A genuine pop-music Renaissance man, Charles has done a bit of everything — and done it well, to boot. Only Elvis Presley can match his feat of having topped the pop, R&B, and country charts, a streak that stretches from 1949 to 1993. Genius & Soul offers a panoramic view of that career, drawing on everything from his earliest singles to his recent work for Warner Bros.
The albums’ title notwithstanding, the collection’s signature qualities are consistency and range. It’s one thing to achieve greatness while converting sanctified gospel into soul (”I Got a Woman”) and quite another to be equally adept at string-drenched middle-of-the-road fare (”I Can’t Stop Loving You”). But as this set makes clear, his work is riveting regardless of the song or style attempted.
Making Genius & Soul all the more appealing is the fact that much of the material has never been available on CD. While Charles’ recordings for Atlantic have long been mined (and have yielded two less inclusive boxed sets), they only cover his work through the ’50s. With a few exceptions, like the landmark Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, the music he made for ABC-Paramount in the ’60s and Crossover in the ’70s are long out of print. That should make Genius & Soul an eye-opener for many listeners — particularly when it comes to lesser-known gems like his bittersweet rendering of ”Yesterday,” and his politicized take on ”Living for the City.”
Nor does the set stop there. In 1983, Charles signed with Columbia Records’ Nashville branch and went country for a while, churning out a string of hit duets, including the chart-topping ”Seven Spanish Angels” with Willie Nelson. That’s included, as are versions of such non-Nashville duets as ”Shake Your Tailfeather” with the Blues Brothers, and ”I’ll Be Good to You” with Chaka Khan.
Yet, for all these 101 tracks, there are enough omissions to leave hardcore fans quibbling. Some are a matter of focus (none of his instrumental work is included), others of taste (why nothing from his Porgy and Bess with Cleo Laine?). But given the way many sets leave listeners moaning ”enough!” isn’t it nice to be left hungry for more? A