Dipping into folk, jazz, pop and soul, Corinne Bailey Rae found a winning approach for her self-titled debut, issued in 2006. That “Corinne Bailey Rae” went down so effortlessly was a tribute to her confidence and the quality of the songs she co-composed.
A battery of producers helped inform the catchy arrangements, all of which placed Rae and her sparkle in a warm spotlight. “Put Your Records On” and “Like A Star” opened as if they were simple folk tunes – that’s Rae’s acoustic guitar kicking off both numbers – but when the band arrived, the tracks embraced a soul-pop undercurrent, swaying rather than driving forward. “Breathless” was cut from similar cloth – a strummed guitar intro – but shifted quickly to lush soul-pop with a subtle nod toward the blues in the chord changes.
Rae seemed to delight in throwing changeups at listeners. “Call Me When You Get This” was ushered in by luscious strings out of 1950s-style ballad, but quickly shifted to a ‘70s dance beat, with Steve Brown providing the whistling Hammond organ. The album zigged and zagged without jarring the listener from the comfort of its charms.
A graduate of the University of Leeds in her hometown, Rae seemed to emerge from the ether fully formed, but she had worked toward excellence from a young age, fronting an indie-rock and funk groups. In 2001, she married saxophonist Jason Rae, who played with Martina Topley-Bird and Amy Winehouse, and began to develop her solo sound. Recording for “Corinne Bailey Rae” began in 2004.
Rae was never overwhelmed by the environment, even when it muscled up. “Trouble Sleeping” built to a forceful bridge with the help of punchy horns – that’s Jamiroquai’s Malcolm Strachan soloing on trumpet – and “Enchantment” profited from electric keyboards and swirling strings. Rae sang both with grace and ease, as she did throughout the album, including “Till It Happens To You,” a down-tempo ballad with its roots in the blues. “I’d Like To” sprang from hip-hop rhythms.
“Corinne Rae Bailey” was a hit, not only in the U.K., but in global markets too, particularly in the U.S. where it sold about two million copies. In 2007, she was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy and “Put Your Records On” was up for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. A year later, “Like A Star” was up for a Song of the Year Grammy (though it was released as a single in 2006. Go figure.) She won two Grammys at the 2008 ceremony for her participation in Herbie Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters,” singing Joni Mitchell’s “The River.”
Following the sudden death of her husband in 2008, Rae withdrew from recording for awhile, then cut her follow-up album, “The Sea,” which was released in early 2010. Though it was very well-received by critics and was nominated for a Mercury Prize, it didn’t match the commercial success of its predecessor. Her version of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” that appeared on her “The Love EP” won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. Despite subsequent accolades, “Corinne Bailey Rae” remains the pinnacle of Rae’s career. It’s a warm, kindhearted album that’s as gentle and as satisfying as a summer breeze.