Review by Brad Walseth
In the liner notes on this new release, Eric Byrd thanks Ray Charles for "coming on TV and turning a seven year old's life around." On "Brother Ray," pianist/vocalist Byrd pays tribute to the artist who inspired him as child, by covering 11 tunes Charles performed. Many of the song choices are lesser known ones like "Them That Got," "Get on the Right Track Baby" and "I Want a Little Girl," along with standbys like "Let the Good Times Roll," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "You Donít Know Me." Obviously no one can match the original Brother Ray's distinctive style and highly personal way of interpreting the songs, but Byrd's versions are still entertaining and pure in their heartfelt respect for the master.
Fellow trio members Bhagwan Khalsa on acoustic bass and Alphonso Young, Jr. on drums provide solid and exemplary support, while a four piece horn section augments several selections. Alto saxophonist Lyle Link also adds some tasty flute on the Joe Greene-penned "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" (not to be confused with the Gerry and the Pacemakers' '60s hit of the same name), while guitarist Frank McCreary guests on "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," which also features a nice bass solo by Khalsa. Meanwhile, vocalist Lea Gilmore is a nice foil to Byrd on Frank Loesser's "Baby it's Cold Outside" and takes center stage on the delightful "Watch Them Dogs."
Byrd's vocals are lighter and less world-worn than the original Brother Ray, but his smooth singing pleases, as does his Charles-influenced piano playing. Fans of Ray Charles will enjoy hearing a bit different take on the old numbers, while new listeners may be tempted to learn more about the "Genius of Soul." Byrd quotes the biblical passage, Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me," and there is a gospel feel running through this recording (as it ran through Ray Charles' work too), as well as a confidence that comes from an artist at peace with himself.