Album Reviews

Corinne Bailey Rae – Corinne Bailey Rae

(EMI) UK release date: 27 February 2006


Corinne Bailey Rae is already one of the most hyped artists in recent memory. Already, for this 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Leeds hasn’t, until now, released an album.

But all the newspapers, all the magazines, Radios 1, 2, 1Xtra, 6, Jools Holland, just everybody, has been all but bowing down to her greatness and throwing their coats across puddles. The public, beyond London’s music village, can be forgiven for being not a little bemused and feeling left out of the loop. Who is this woman? Why should we care? And didn’t someone compare her to Norah Jones? Can I have a frappucino with that?

To which I say, don’t blame the artist for the spin, and don’t always assume spin is wide of the mark. This eponymous debut has caused much frothing amongst people because, quite simply, it is exceptional in every way.

First and most obviously, there’s the voice. Likened to all sorts of people, from Billie Holiday through Lauryn Hill to Erykah Badu, it is pure honey. Warm, sweet, a little vulnerable here, powerful there, it’s the perfect antidote to a freezing winter. This is emphatically not the voice of Ms Jones, whose tones sound starkly one-dimensional by comparison.

Bailey Rae’s voice has a rare intimacy about it that leads one to believe she’s not behind speaker panels at all, but actually in the room – none more so than on the lovely Choux Pastry Heart. Curious title, supreme song. And she never shouts or screeches.

Such a voice would be enough to propel her into the charts on its own, but it’s just the most obvious of her talents. She also writes or co-writes everything on the album. There are no covers – and this is not just a beguiling face. Indeed, our heroine is not fresh from performance school at all but rather someone who’s been plugging her music – first as part of Leeds band Helen, then solo – for some years now. She’s playing medium sized barns around the country in spring, but in recent times some were lucky enough to catch her in venues as intimate as London’s Cherry Jam – with less than 100 capacity.

Then there’s the hop-skip of genre crossings that influence the songs, rooting jazz in melodic pop via chilled out soul. Like all really great artist albums, this record has a variety of single-strength songs but hangs together as an album too. Some songs are reflectively stark – Trouble Sleeping, Like A Star – while others bubble with lush strings, production and gospel backing vocals.

Her root theme is love. She’s been around enough to know that love is about more than boy meets girl, that it’s something to be worked at. But while her work ethic is commendable, and her perspective on what makes for a relationship perceptive, she finds time too for memories of good times with friends. I’d Like To is one of the sassiest songs never to make a Macy Gray record, while Butterfly is another effortless charm of a song. You can hear her smile as she sings the chorus, and no wonder.

And there’s the vibe brought about by the lyrics and production. This is a decidedly positive record, one based on lyrics that suggest Bailey Rae has lived through enough experience to be interesting, without being melodramatic. This is not the sound of a hard done by kid on an estate, but rather a lady in her prime who seems to be doing fine – and is happy to say so. For that and so much more, Corinne Bailey Rae is a breath of fresh air.


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Corinne Bailey Rae @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London