With the passing of Ray Charles in 2004, the year, consequently, became a time for looking back on the soul legend's achievements. Though Charles was a stylistic chameleon, dabbling in everything from soul to country to heavily orchestrated standards, his roots were always in the church. With his passionate cadences and fiery vocal embellishments, Charles came directly out of gospel, and these stylings remained at the root of his work his entire life. RAY CHARLES CELEBRATES A GOSPEL CHRISTMAS--appropriately--brings his legacy full circle.
Though Charles recorded the album late in life, when his voice had lost a bit of its trademark control and precision, his warmth and personality pour through on every track. A full gospel choir contributes to some of the album's highlights, including "What Kind of Man Is This?" (which recalls the propulsive swing of Charles's early R&B hits). There are fresh arrangements to holiday standbys ("Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," given an up-tempo, rave-up treatment here), as well as lighter Christmas tunes (a funky "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer") and more contemporary classics (a suave, sweet rendering of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). This holiday offering is a fond, final way to remember this genius of modern music.