After the success of Two Men With the Blues (Blue Note, 2008), Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles is a welcome inevitability. The addition of the like-minded Norah Jones to the mix is just gravy, properly augmenting a Ray Charles tribute.
TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES brings out both the jazziness that's long been a key element of Willie Nelson's sound (his standards album, STARDUST, remains one of his most acclaimed efforts) and the New Orleans-tinged, Louis Armstrong-esque bluesiness that's at the core of almost everything Wynton Marsalis has ever done (not counting that classical album!). Marsalis blows blistering, gutsy solos on Nelson's own classic tune "Night Life," and Willie sounds completely at home delivering a low-key version of the New Orleans jazz standard "Basin Street Blues." A version of the Ray Charles signature song "Georgia on My Mind" highlights the jazz-savvy chordal movement and country/blues base of the timeless composition. TWO MEN WITH THE BLUES is a successful sonic summit meeting, but the two camps represented were never truly that far apart to begin with.
The genius of their first special was how it favored neither man's immediate, obvious specialty: Nelson is, of course, a country music icon, while Marsalis is one of the nation's foremost jazzmen, but for that show, they met in the middle and played some blues. This time, in taking on the Charles songbook, they allow themselves to hopscotch all over the melodic map, as he did. Charles was, of course, the "genius of soul," but he was also a musical journeyman who experimented in pop, blues, jazz, and country (most famously on his classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums). And they don't restrict themselves to Charles' own compositions, just songs he performed throughout his career.
Jazz buffs are very familiar with Wynton Marsalis and his trumpet. Opera lovers know the quality voice of lyrical soprano Kathleen Battle. A perfect blending of these two performers, in the Baroque music, has been acheived in this CD. The match of human voice and trumpet seems to us, at the end of the Twenth Century, a mismatch. But to quote Ellen T. Harris, who wrote the liner notes, "The real and sympolic power of the trumpet makes its combination with the quieter instruments and voice seems, at first, imbrobable, but a softer sweeter style of playing in the high ("clarino") register was typical in art music for the trumpet…". Sounds simple enough, but Wynton is one of the few players who can do it well. So well in fact, that at several points Kathleen's voice and Wynton's trumpet blend into one voice, a balanced singularity, even duplicating each others vibrato exactly. A truely amazing accomplishment, which can only be fully appreciated by listening; but once you hear this glorious sound, you'll want to upgrade your stero system to capture its fullness…By A Customer