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June 2005

John Scofield
That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles
Verve

As soon as he died, Ray Charles was everywhere: Alicia Keys conjured him at the Super Bowl, his final recording pulled down a Grammy and Jamie Foxx portrayed him in an Academy-smooched biopic. This may be more Charles than anyone can reasonably be expected to handle, but guitarist John Scofield is betting that we want a little more, giving the famous singer a
well-meaning if ungainly send-off with That's What I Say.

Scofield's last CD was the brainy, contoured live album EnRoute. That's What I Say aims to please, and it has none of its predecessor's focus. Instead, Scofield enlists a small army of special guests and tries out a new concept on nearly every
song. "What'd I Say" sags under the weight of multiple guest vocalists. In contrast, Mavis Staples' vocal feature, "I Can't Stop Loving You," cuts out the flab and delivers a classic R&B sound. Then pop rocker John Mayer turns up for "I Don't Need No Doctor," making Ray Charles sound a lot like John Mayer (which was probably the point).

Scofield's kitchen-sink methodology extends even to the instrumentals. One moment it's the brassy big-band swing on "Hit the Road Jack," the next it's modernized electro-jazz on "Unchain My Heart (Part 1)." Quality varies wildly on this disc, but Scofield sounds out of place and constricted throughout. He may be having fun, but the material doesn't play to his considerable strengths.

Originally published in June 2005
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