Jazz Vocals

Christmas With Ray

20 NOV 09 ANNE FARNSWORTH

While there's nothing more soulfully iconic than Ray Charles' voice, the sound of his Fender Rhodes keyboard runs a close second. In The Spirit Of Christmas, he uses both to give holiday favorites a unique makeover.

Like Frank Sinatra, who also has a Christmas release featured this month, Charles had the gift of adding his highly personal stamp to a musical style while still respecting the genre. Alternative Christmas records can range from the kicky and fun to the truly bizarre, but Ray embodies the spirit of the season. He sings with hope, sincerity and a lot of heart. But fear not, these holiday chestnuts still get the Ray Charles treatment, complete with the Raelettes and a smoking horn section that has Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Last week, I sat in on a master class where Lamont Dozier, part of Motown's famous Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team, was coaching some young singers. At one point he said, "We're spiritual beings, and our spirits are always reaching out to touch each other's spirit." In "Christmas In My Heart," when Ray Charles sings "That magic reaches out to touch me," his big heart reaches out and touches ours.