When it came to musical demarcation lines, the late Ray Charles couldn’t care less. There were only two kinds of music to his ears – good and bad. In the 50s, the blind singer/pianist sowed the seeds for soul music when he controversially married the earthy sound of rhythm and blues – the so-called “devil’s music” – with the devotional cadences of gospel.
Again, in the early 60s, Charles took an unexpected left turn into Nashville and fused soul with country. His work helped to dissolve both musical and racial barriers in the States, and in recognition of his pioneering spirit and importance to American music, back in February 2009, renegade country legend Willie Nelson joined forces with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his band for a Ray Charles tribute concert at Lincoln Center (the two men had previously collaborated on 2008’s critically-lauded Two Men With The Blues album). Now available on CD, the concert focuses on material associated with Charles, ranging from Hit The Road Jack to Hallelujah I Love Her So and a fiery gospel-fuelled What’d I Say. It’s enhanced by the alluring presence of Norah Jones, who contributes blithe, bittersweet vocals in contrast to Nelson’s craggy, weathered delivery and Marsalis’ plaintive horn lines.