The Immersive Masterpiece of Genius Loves Company
Ray Charles’ final studio album, released posthumously, deserved all its accolades.
By Ben Jacklin
In 2005, the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Immersive Audio Album was awarded to Genius Loves Company, kicking off the era of this award not only with a truly incredible and fitting artist, but also an album that celebrates one of the most charming and illustrious musical careers in history.
So many musicians were involved in the recording of Genius Loves Company that one could have expected the whole process to quickly become messy and difficult to maintain control over, but with the production mastery of John Burk and the incredible surround sound work of Al Schmitt, the ambitious project turned out to be quite the opposite of messy.
The intimate album flows beautifully, and though it was perhaps not designed to be, it serves as the perfect tribute to Ray Charles, who passed away before the album was brought to release. The release itself was a smash hit, and a celebration of the life of a musical legend who influenced so many. As well as the award for Best Immersive Audio Album, it won seven other Grammy’s, including Album of the Year for 2005.
The surround sound mix of this album creates space for all the busy and exciting cameos on the album. Hundreds of session musicians make appearances along with the headline acts. Each of the songs on the album is a duet, an idea first proposed by John Burk and a sort of homage to Frank Sinatra’s “Duets” album.
The names involved are truly distinguished. When you’re as big a name as Ray, roping in some musician friends is naturally easy, but this group had been carefully selected, and the album itself is no ego trip. Appearances from Elton John, James Taylor, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, Van Morrison and Willie Nelson show the incredible level of diversity in the musicians involved, and the canvas they paint means there is never a dull moment within the recording, especially with the panoramic sound that made this mix so worthy of awards.
Highlights are plenty. The B.B. King collaboration recording of “Sinner’s Prayer” takes on an extra poignancy as these two contemporaries work together for the last time on an iconic recording. “It Was a Very Good Year” with Willie Nelson, by some strange alchemy, creates a unique audio experience that somehow works perfectly.
The album culminates in “Crazy Love,” as Ray and Van Morrison produce incredible live vocal performances which intertwine to produce a mesmeric result. The emotion of the album may not exactly have been planned like this, but “Crazy Love” becomes a true moment for the fans, and you may find yourself holding back tears.
Ray Charles continued to reinvent himself, stay relevant and make his mark on the industry right to the end, and what a fitting musical end Genius Loves Company proved to be. The drama of the album is given its proper sound stage by Burk and Schmitt, and the recording is truly deserving of the millions of sales and dozens of awards Ray Charles received posthumously.
About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com