Distraught, Bailey Rae returned to university, where she was undertaking an English degree and took employment as a cloakroom attendant in a Leeds jazz club. It was a job that changed her life. In quieter moments, she was given the chance to sing, and soon found herself developing an affinity for soul and jazz music – all the more so after beginning a relationship with saxophonist Jason Rae, in whose vast record collection Corinne immersed herself. The couple married in 2001 and, with eatured Imageher new husband’s encouragement (and a surname change to Bailey Rae), she began writing her own material, subtly melding her indie leanings with soul and jazz.
The new direction led to a number of collaborations in 2003, including with The New Mastersounds on ‘Your Love Is Mine’, and Homecut Directive’s single ‘Come The Revolution’. Her reputation growing, Bailey Rae was approached by Artful Dodger’s Mark Hill. Their collaboration, ‘Young And Foolish’, recorded under his alias of The stiX, proved an effective showcase for Rae’s distinctive vocals. Released as part of an EP, with an accompanying video in 2005, it caught the attention of EMI bosses, who offered her a record deal.
The success of Bailey Rae’s 2006 self-titled debut album proved their faith to be well-founded. Fresh-faced and down to earth, she offered a gentle alternative to her more outré contemporaries. The irresistible, feel-good soul-pop of preceding single ‘Put Your Records On’ proved a runaway chart hit. Released in February that year, it reached No.2 in the UK charts and came to dominate the British airwaves. The album, which followed swiftly on its heels, is an impeccably crafted musical patchwork of soul, jazz and pop. There are subtle nods to Zero 7 on the graceful Hammond soul of ‘Till It Happens To You’ and Beatles-esque chord progressions on the pretty ‘Choux Pastry Heart’. ‘Breathless’ is a caramel-smooth slice of modern soul, while there’s a neat homage to Stevie Wonder on ‘Seasons Change’. But it’s Rae’s vocals – fragile, delicate, and imbued with enveloping warmth – that defines the album and confirmed her as a major star in her own right. They’re at their most effective on the luscious single ‘Like A Star’: a song which provided the singer with her biggest US hit.
The album debuted at No.1 in the UK album charts, peaked at No.4 in the US Billboard 200, and went on to sell over four million copies worldwide. Such success was backed with critical plaudits come award season, as Bailey Rae scooped two MOBOs (for Best UK Female and Best UK Newcomer), and earned four Grammy nominations.
A busy year spent touring the world was marked with a DVD and album set. Live In London & New York served to illustrate her engaging live presence, and featured spirited versions of album tracks alongside a soulful, jazz-heavy take on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. Later that year, in a measure of her international regard, she appeared on Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Mitchell Letters, an album which went on to win both Album Of The Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album at the Grammy Awards.
As she began work on a follow-up album in 2008, tragedy struck when husband Jason was found dead at a friend’s flat. Rae’s world fell apart and she spent a lengthy period at home in Leeds recovering among friends and family. At length, she returned to songwriting, finding a form of catharsis in its process.
When her second album, The Sea, finally appeared in January 2010, it was a radical departure from her past work. Gone was the breezy pop of the debut, replaced with a mature, introspective collection of rock-inflected songs, while Bailey Rae’s voice had developed a newfound range and emotional depth. Both celebrating her husband and tackling her grief with palpable emotion, opener ‘Are You Here’ beging with the tribute, “He’s a real live wire/He’s the best of his kind/Wait till you see those eyes.” Lead single ‘I’d Do It Again’ was a meditative ode to love, written after the pair had quarrelled. The beautiful and wistful ‘Feels Like The First Time’ continues with her reverie before ‘The Blackest Lily’ ramps things up with its powerful guitar blasts. Other highlights on an eclectic but consistently excellent collection include the neo soul of ‘Closer’ and the brooding Jeff Buckley-esque rocker ‘Diving For Hearts’. The album finishes with the heartbreaking title track, a song pre-dating her husband’s passing, written about her grandfather’s death in a boating accident.
Both a grand and affecting statement of loss and a celebration of love, The Sea met with critical praise and commercial success on its release, debuting at No.5 on the UK albums chart and No.7 on the US Billboard 200 chart, while it was also nominated for the Mercury Prize. Still in the process of grieving, Rae set off on tour in early 2010, promoting the album in a busy schedule that took in dates across the UK, Europe and US, before visiting such far-flung places as Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and the Middle East.
She released The Love EP in early 2011. Considerably lighter and more airy in sound than The Sea, it contained five cover versions, which included accomplished takes on Prince’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, Belly’s ‘Low Red Moon’ and Paul McCartney And Wings’ ‘My Love’. The highlights, however, were a bluesy live recording of Doris Day’s ‘Que Sera Sera’ and a rework of ‘Is This Love’, which slowed the Bob Marley original to a languorous, sultry crawl. It was an inventive reimagining that won the singer her first solo Grammy Award, for Best R&B Performance.
Retiring once more from the spotlight, Bailey Rae began writing new material for a third album at her home studio in Leeds with producer Steve Brown, with whom she had worked with on each of her previous albums. After years of friendship, the pair fell in love while working on the project, and married in 2013; this newfound sense of happiness shaped a positive-minded batch of songs. Flying out to LA “to let the sunshine in”, Bailey Rae was to spend seven months there, enjoying life at her poolside home while reshaping the songs with some of America’s most distinguished soul and jazz musicians, including Pino Palladino, Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding and Marvin Gaye’s drummer James Gadson.
Two tracks from that album, The Heart Speaks In Whispers, were previewed in early 2016, with both demonstrating a new level of sophistication in Bailey Rae’s music. ‘Been To The Moon’ is full of deliciously squelchy synths, adding a welcome dose of funk to her musical template, while ‘Green Aphrodisiac’, a collaboration with twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother, of King, is a luscious soul number that’s blessed with a warm hug of a chorus. With superlative performances from her talented group of backing musicians, and Bailey Rae’s stronger-than-ever vocals radiating joy, they represent her strongest music to date, and confirm her as the UK’s greatest contemporary soul artist.
Words: Paul Bowler
When songstress Corinne Bailey Rae released her sashaying single "Put Your Records On" in her native U.K. it was a feel-good adult alternative phenomenon -- a kind of Norah Jones, Joss Stone, David Gray, or Macy Gray phenomenon. One listen to her breakout soft soul anthem and it's easy to hear why, since Rae is a mix of all the above but not a contrived one concocted by some major label's scientist. Her self-titled debut sounds a wee rushed and sometimes meanders its way into background music territory, but this comfortable effort is pleasingly homegrown, warm, and poignant in parts, especially when Rae doesn't weaken her strong lyrics with space-filling "doo de do do do"s and "mmmmmmm"s. So if she doesn't make an Alicia Keys-size splash with her debut, she's still a breath of fresh air, and hardly a one-hit wonder. It's risky to open an album with a lazy ballad, but the great "Like a Star" paints Rae as Billie Holiday's pop-influenced granddaughter. Mellowing Style Council or Brand New Heavies fans should dig "Trouble Sleeping," while "Butterfly" beautifully captures the full range of emotions that come with leaving the nest. The well-written and direct "Butterfly" suggests Rae could release a more accomplished full-length someday, but attention to "feel" often seems like the driving force in this album's creation. Adjust your expectations accordingly and Rae's languid debut is very rewarding.
Words: David Jeffries
After selling four million copies of her debut album, an effort filled with her precious brand of neo-soul and the uplifting hit "Put Your Records On," singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae lost her husband Jason Rae suddenly and took two years off to grieve and recover before returning with her second effort, The Sea. On the album’s opener “Are You Here,” lyrics like “Wait till you see those eyes” and “He’ll kiss you make you feel sixteen” suggest she’s just fallen in love, but the fascinating idea behind The Sea is that it never explains itself, even if there’s a new richness in Rae’s soft and oh-so-tender voice that suggests something has changed deep inside. As such, the song’s “What’s it even mean?” question could be the beginning of a love affair or a tragedy, but the following “I’d Do It All Again” is even trickier, as post-argument lyrics written before her husband’s tragic loss (“You’re searching for something I know/Won’t make you happy”) take on new meaning . Further confusing the matter, throughout the album the singer speaks of her love in the present tense. Then there are the numbers that come from left field, like the slithering, funky “The Blackest Lilly,” which struts like a sexy Rolling Stones song while pulling inspiration from Philadelphia’s neo-soul party, the Black Lily. It comes to a moving end with the title track, a masterful piece that looks back through generations of loss and the majestic ocean of time that “Breaks everything/Crushes everything/Cleans everything.” If it all seems incongruous, so is the recovery process Rae must face, and the album’s cycle of mourning, returning to work, aching, fondly reminiscing, yearning, and then back again won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who has lost someone close. It doesn’t offer any answers, but The Sea is a testament to Rae’s artistic growth as it provides comfort to those left on the wistful side of eternal love, and insight to those who are not.
Words: David Jeffries
Corinne Bailey Rae's star rose fast when her single "Put Your Records On" began speaking to the heart of so many in early 2006. Still, her self-titled debut album had "legs" and a year later casual music fans were still discovering and falling in love with her warm, smooth, and touching music. Giving the established fans something new without the hazard of confusing newcomers, Live in London & NY is a pleasurable live set that does more than placehold. It actually displays what a strong performer Rae is and flushes out her character a bit more than her shade-too-lazy debut. Two shows are presented -- London on the DVD and New York on the CD -- and they're different enough to be distinct, suggesting the singer pegs the feel of different audiences and venues like an artist in concert should. Perhaps her band is a little too stiff, sounding like hired hands that could be working for someone entirely different tomorrow. This is overcome by the always connectable main attraction and her enthusiasm for the material, plus some smart arrangements that expand and strengthen the songs. A fringe release but a strong one that complements her debut.
Words: David Jeffries