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Album review: 'Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles' with Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis featuring Norah Jones

March 29, 2011 |  6:45 am

Herewegoagain_240__ Two years after the Red Headed Stranger and one of the prime purveyors and chief defenders of New Orleans culture collaborated in 2007 at New York’s Lincoln Center for “Two Men With the Blues,” Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis reconvened and invited Norah Jones along for a spirited salute to the Genius of Soul.

Ray Charles surely would have admired the inventive and lively jazz-drenched arrangements accompanying many of his standards, including “Hit the Road Jack,” “Busted,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Unchain My Heart” and “Cryin’ Time.”

Nobody’s attempting to mimic Charles’ unduplicatable vocal style, and in Nelson this outing has another equally idiosyncratic, quintessentially American voice at the front of most of the numbers. His duet with Jones on Buck Owens’ country weeper “Cryin’ Time” is less a melding of voices than two skilled pilots circling over a runway, each politely offering the other the courtesy of touching down first. Marsalis adds plenty of Crescent City-rooted instrumental spark.

Only in the session-closing performance of “What’d I Say” do you wish they’d been able to channel more of the energy of the original. Charles’ seductive performance was a masterwork of sexual longing; here, all concerned sound like they got caught up in the festive atmosphere of the evening and settled on celebration over lust. Jones gets nominally sultry, but at 77, Nelson’s “heys” and “hos” sound more like distant memories than stirrings of actual yearnings.

—Randy Lewis

Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis featuring Norah Jones
“Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles”
Blue Note
Three stars (Out of four)