When it comes to it’s music, America seems to have a general love for most things British – be it temporary (Spice Girls, Craig David, Robbie Williams) or long-term (The Beatles, Elton John, Coldplay). So when new British import Corinne Bailey Rae exploded into the UK mainstream with her debut album, it was only a matter of time before her soothing brand of British soul penetrated American charts; not that her brand of music would be that much of a hard sell to us Americans.
Upon reaching American airwaves, Corrine slowly garnered the inevitable comparisons from critics all across the board. In a nutshell, she’s been described as a hybrid of Norah Jones, David Gray, Joss Stone, Macy Gray, and Erykah Badu.
But to be fair, and in her defense, the aforementioned comparisons only bear subtle similarities. She’s not quite as soporific as Jones, not quite as cryptic as Gray, David, not quite as manufactured as Stone, not nearly as bizarre as Gray, Macy and aside from the rare vocal phrasing resemblance, is not anything like Ms. Badu.
So what does Corinne Bailey Rae sound like? Like a British Soul chanteuse with the soul and spirit of a jazz legend wrapped inside tranquil melodies, elegant arrangements, and pure emotion.
Now suffice to say, her album isn’t for advocates of instant gratification. A few test spins may call to mind ” elevator music”. But pretty elevator music; the kind that would make you intentionally get on said elevator just to hear it again. But after a while, the album slowly wears a groove into your ear until you not only hear what she’s saying but you feel it even more so.
Like on album opener, Like A Star, where Corinne examines the depth of her newfound love over a gentle bed of acoustic guitars and pensive strings and sings with such clear-eyed wonderment to where you can’t help but feel the subtle gravity of the concept’s mystery and curiosity.
Or on lead single, Put Your Records On, where Corinne puts a breezy lilt in her voice over the summery bed of horns and percussion as she proclaims the joy and elation in finding one’s identity in music.
Or on the midtempo jazz lounge number, Trouble Sleeping, where Corinne attributes her insomnia to unspoken love over a early morning meld of more horns and percussion.
Or on the sassy I’d Like To where Corinne recalls fond childhood memories over the album’s bounciest melody and arrangement of horns, drums, and slightly booming bass.
Or on the melancholic Till It Happens To You where Corinne languishes love lost over an arrangement of somber bass and pain-staked percussion that drips with a subtle shade of 70s soul.
Or on the big band, mid-tempo, show stopper Breathless where Corinne stresses the beauty in having love take your breath away.
Or on album highlight, Call Me When You Get This, which finds Corinne elated over a maturing love affair that is only enhanced by the record’s dusty disco-soul groove and Corinne’s rather girly vocal.
The downsides? Well aside from having to adjust to the rather steady yet mellow, at times borderline monotonous pace – which makes tunes such as Enchantment, Butterfly, and Choux Pastry Heart more of that pretty elevator music mentioned earlier – it would have to be Corinne’s vocal training. The talent is more than evident in her pipes and she effortlessly evokes vocal imagery of some of jazz’s greatest legends. But instead of spicing things up vocally, she found a rather comfy key and stuck with it for an entire 46:00. So while she’s more than capable of carrying these songs over, at times, it’s hard to ascertain the emotion she was trying to convey without a second reading of the lyric sheet.
Yet while we’re not always sure what Corinne herself is feeling, it’s apparent what she can make the listener feel in just a few moments. And if nothing else, you’ll at least feel that Corinne Bailey Rae is the real deal. No pretense + a little bit of hype + inevitable and expected gimmick + genuine talent = a breath of fresh air in a rather stunted and monotonous music scene.
How can you not put this record on?