Ray Charles

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Friendship Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

In the liner notes to Columbia/Legacy's 2005 reissue of Ray Charles' 1984 album Friendship Gregg Geller calls the record "the crowning achievement" of the phase of Ray's career where he "would cater to current tastes and draw from contemporary sources." That's an accurate assessment of the LP in two ways: first of all, Friendship was a big hit, really the last genuine hit when Charles was alive, reaching number one on the country charts, where it stayed for 70 weeks; second, it is the pinnacle of his '80s country-pop records, the one where Ray truly captured the sound of the era (as evidenced by its chart success), thanks in no small part to producer Billy Sherrill, who gave this the same clean, slick, punchy sound that he brought to many of the Columbia/Epic records he produced in the early '80s. Of course, that doesn't necessarily make Friendship a great record, or even a good one. The very things that made it a hit in 1984 make it very dated -- apart from a cut or two, such as the good-humored opener, "Two Old Cats Like Us," the songs are as generic as Nashville product comes, and the overly bright sound of the album may have made it slip easily onto the charts in 1984, but has lost whatever charm it had over the years. Nevertheless, this is a record made by old pros, so it's never bad. At its best -- meaning when there is some real interaction between Ray and his guests, as there is with Hank Williams, Jr. (the aforementioned "Two Old Cats Like Us"), the Oak Ridge Boys ("This Old Heart [Is Gonna Rise Again]"), and George Jones ("We Didn't See a Thing") -- it's merely pleasant; at it's worst, it's simply dull, and duets between Ray and such greats as Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson simply should not be dull, yet they are here and sound even duller with decades of hindsight. While Friendship is by no means embarrassing, it's also not particularly interesting, and it's more of a testament to the power of Sherrill's Music City machine than it is to Charles' greatness.

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