The sensation of the day takes it in stride

August 17, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

When I heard the buzz, I was skeptical. According to the international music press earlier this year, Corinne Bailey Rae, a curly-haired ingenue from Leeds, England, was supposed to be The New Thing. Comparisons to Sade, Minnie Riperton, Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, even Billie Holiday peppered just about every review I read on her. I rolled my eyes, but I was still interested. Who is this girl?

I received an advance copy of her album months ago. And although Bailey Rae is seriously talented, I think some of the comparisons were a bit overblown. She seems to feel the same way too.

"I think it's wild," says the singer-songwriter, who plays Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis tomorrow and the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., on Sunday. "I recognize that my voice is kind of quirky, and I don't have a lot of range. But I use it kind of in a conversational way, like Billie Holiday, I guess. I don't get involved with what other people say in reviews. I want to feel it all on the inside and not be walled in by what others think."

Good for her. If she keeps that attitude, the artist should realize the promise displayed on her acclaimed self-titled debut. Driven by her nimble acoustic guitar and delicate, sometimes-pretty phrasing, the record is uneven. Toward the end, Bailey Rae's folk-and-jazz-suffused, lite-soul concoctions become aural incense smoke. But the CD, echoing strains of Riperton and Phoebe Snow, is still one of the better releases out this year.

Bailey Rae started to explore the organic, '70s-inspired pop-soul direction a few years ago. Throughout her teens, she was heavily into alternative rock and played in an all-female, Veruca Salt-inspired band called Helen.

"The move into this sound was a long process, really," says the artist, 27, who was performing in Austin, Texas, last week. "I worked in a band a long time. As we got older, we became more aware of soul and jazz. Musically, I wanted more development. I wanted a wider range to express more emotions - the joys and hopes you can find in soul. But if you're musical, you can hear the same things in all different types of music."

Her sound melds unconventional lyrics about love's games with gossamer, strings-accented arrangements. Though the sprightly first single, "Put Your Records On," is refreshing, the ballads (and the debut has plenty of 'em) are more revealing. The album even opens with one, a pretty blossom of a song called "Like a Star": Just like a star across my sky/Just like an angel off the page/You have appeared to my life/Feel like I'll never be the same.

"I feel like [the album] completely reflects who I am," says Bailey Rae, who was an English literature major at Leeds University. "That's why I called it after my name. I couldn't think of an overarching title."

Bailey Rae, who is married to British saxophonist Jason Rae, says she feels more at ease with the music on stage.

"I have a seven-piece band on this tour, and I feel like it's great to be able to work with the same band," she says. "Generally, the live performances are a bit harder than the record - and rawer. I'm just glad to come all this way from England and have an audience to play to."

Corinne Bailey Rae's shows at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis and the Birchmere in Alexandria are sold out.

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