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Floating Into ‘The Sea’ With Corinne Bailey Rae

Alex Kilpatrick | Friday, February 26, 2010

British soul sweetheart Corinne Bailey Rae blew us all away with her 2006 summery single, “Put Your Records On,” off her self-titled debut album, a jazzy take on the pop R&B genre. Now, after a long hiatus, her sophomore album, “The Sea,” has a more mature sound, with less pop and more soul.

Following the commercial and critical success of her debut album, Rae began work on songs for her second musical endeavor in late 2007. But she was forced to take a tragic break from her music after her husband, Scottish saxophonist Jason Rae, died of an accidental overdose in March 2008.

After a period of grief and isolation, Rae revisited material for “The Sea” in 2009, when she began album recording sessions at Limefield Studios in Manchester.

According to an interview with Rae in the UK’s Observer, she implemented a live band in the album’s recording, something that was not done on her debut LP.

“On the first album, it was me and a producer in a basement going through hundreds of snare drum sounds to find the right one,” Rae said. “With a live band, you can stretch out more and try new things out without feeling you’re having to undo this meticulously built-up track.”

“The Sea” comprises songs both written before and after her husband’s death, and many of the songs carry personal themes for Rae. For example, opener “Are You Here” is about pure, irresolvable emotion and that’s clear from the song’s first line, “He’s a real live wire,” and the quiet carefully plucked guitar chords that Rae plays along with dream-like vocals.

Lead single “I’d Do It All Again” has a more jazzy sound and portrays the influences of classic R&B musicians including Curtis Mayfield, Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone and Leonard Cohen, to whom she was listening at the time of recording. The song was written almost immediately after an argument with Jason and describes commitment to a relationship even during difficult moments, Rae said.

“Almost as he was leaving the room, I just sat down and wrote it,” she told the UK’s Observer. “It’s just about how I felt about him at that time. Even right in the middle of the worst times, I remember thinking that I would choose this exact life again, that I would do it all again.”

Personal favorite “Feels Like The First Time” gives insight into the emotional influence of Jason’s death on Rae with the lyrics, “I could pretend that I was okay / I wind around the parties, drink in hand / I could pretend that you went away / That I had changed and I no longer hear the band.”

“Blackest Lily” is sprinkled with faint modern rock and electronic influences, while “Closer” has more of that rhythm and bluesy feel that we’ve all come to know and love from Rae. “Love’s On Its Way” is also a softer jazzier piece but climaxes with a loud chorus towards the end.

The catchiest tune on the album, “Paris Nights / New York Mornings” is an upbeat throwback to Corinne’s summery jazzy pop days, while “Paper Dolls” is a somewhat out-of-place rock song with lyrics, “All my life all my life / I said it’s not right / Nobody told me I could do something / Nobody told me I could be something.”

Overall, “The Sea” is not perfect but it is a solid effort and has a much more mature sound than Rae’s debut album. The dichotomy between the sense of commitment in the songs written before Jason Rae’s death and the deep sense of loss in the songs written after gives the album more emotional depth than most of today’s albums.

Contact Alex Kilpatrick at akilpatr@nd.edu