If ever a musician had a pedigree for simultaneously lamenting and celebrating the late Ray Charles, David "Fathead" Newman does. Newman met Charles in 1952 and was a working member of his band from 1954-1964. This program of tunes so closely associated with Charles features the tenor saxophonist in the company of vibist Steve Nelson, John Hicks in the piano chair, Winard Harper on drums, and bassist John Menegon. Newman's signature Southern soul tone, saturated in warmth and emotion, is by turns buttery, fat, and back-porch tender. From the opening chorus of "Hit the Road, Jack," one can feel the great control Newman has over the dynamic quality of these tunes. He treats them as classics, albeit very familiar ones. He finds no need to force anything here, knowing that the tunes themselves provide all the inspirational magic necessary. Newman also stays close to the soul-drenched bone despite the sophistication of the arrangements and performances. The reading of "Georgia On My Mind," with fine solos by Nelson and Hicks, is a case in point, as is the midtempo groove in "Deed I Do," where the swinging lyric is given wings in Newman's solo. The set closes with "Them That Got (I Ain't Got You)," a wide-open relaxed stroll through Charles' brand of gospel and soul re-created with a hard bop finger pop. This is a winner through and through.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek