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In March 2008, Corinne Bailey Rae lost her husband Jason suddenly. They had married in 2000, with Bailey Rae frequently saying there had been an instant attraction between them - despite some stark differences.
Bailey Rae was studious and clean living musician, someone who spent much of her youth involved in church activities and still a churchgoer in adulthood. Her husband was more of a partygoer - he was a talented saxophonist but he enjoyed a drink and, as his widow was to confirm in her written statement to her husband's inquest, would dabble in drugs once he had a drink in him.
However Bailey Rae had a very pragmatic approach to marriage - unlike many people she was in it for the long haul and accepted that her husband had flaws. She was mature enough to understand an argument didn't mean a call to a lawyer and the bond she and Jason shared was a strong and enduring one - with Bailey Rae describing him as both her soul mate and her best friend.
Bailey Rae spent a year grieving following her devastating loss - by her own admission she did absolutely nothing except "sit". She didn't pick up a guitar or even attempt to write any songs, the closest thing she did to being even slightly creative was to do some knitting.
Eventually after a year she began to write again. She had started the process of writing the follow up to her hugely successful debut album before her husband died and when she returned to writing there was obviously an element of being influenced by his death.
"The Sea" was released in February of this year and I was curious to hear it but scared to listen too. My husband died in March 2008 too - so I knew I would have been experiencing the same emotions as Bailey Rae both then and, most likely, now. Eventually I got the kick up the bum I needed to buy it with the announcement it had been shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, enabling me to pick it up for a fiver.
My biggest fear about hearing this album was that I worried I would be taken back in time to the early days of loss - a time which I have heard described as "a pit". Unless you have lost the love of your life it's not a place you will readily understand, but the early stages of grief are times I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.
That fear was quickly dispelled as I realised that this album conveys many emotions - not just pain and grief - there's a lot of love here and most importantly chinks of light in the dark too, which represent an omnipresent sense of hope.
I drive past the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art here in Edinburgh almost every day and for some time now there has been, in bright blue neon, the words "everything is going to be alright" adorning the entrance to the building - and in the depths of my despair I have read them, tried to take them to heart and draw comfort from them.
Bailey Rae's album conveys that message subtly too - but there's some darkness to crawl through too.
The album opens with "Are You Here" - a title which deliberately omits the question mark one would expect at the end - which begins with a guitar riff that instantly draws you in.
Bailey Rae's voice has been compared to Billie Holliday's - and certainly she is more of a jazz singer than a soul singer - but on "Are You Here" the voice is vulnerable and heartfelt as she ponders where those we love go. The sound is reminiscent in places of the Cocteau Twins - especially on the chorus - but it's the dark but memorable guitar playing along with the sweet voice which work so well together.
"I'd Do it All Again" was written by Bailey Rae before her husband died. She wrote the song almost immediately after an argument with him - she has stated she sat down to write it almost as soon as he had walked out of the door. It stands as a wonderful tribute to her marriage, with the line "someone to love is bigger than your pride's worth" - being particularly relevant to my own memories of my husband.
Rae sings gently over the acoustic guitar at the start but as the song builds up her vocals become more intense as there's something deeply personal and honest about her voice as she sings the title in the chorus.
Bailey Rae recorded most of the album with a live band, and this gives "The Sea" an immediate and more raw sound which works really well. On "Feels Like the First Time" the lush strings and faster pace gives a more uplifting sound. Similarly in spite of the darkness of the title of "The Blackest Lily" this has more of a rock sound with excellent use made of the organ way down in the mix.
"Love's on Its Way" is the most spiritual song on the album as Bailey Rae considers her own faith and how it has helped her see that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. It's a very heavy song lyrically and the overall sound is minor rather than major with a sense of sadness at the start. Bailey Rae's voice as she sings the chorus conveys heartbreak, confusion and hope all at once. The sound is almost like a modern hymn with a choir sound on the backing vocals and use of an organ.
Bailey Rae touches on other subjects too as she recalls the "popular" girls she went to school with on "Paper Dolls" - a song which lyrically considers what became of the girls who were less studious and serious than her - but asks points out that no-one ever told them they could do something with their life. The song features the unmistakeable sound of a Stylophone which adds to the sense of reminiscence. "Paris Nights and New York Mornings" has a gently joyous sound to it with a lovely uptempo chorus as Bailey Rae sings of a love she clearly doesn't regret a second of. This has a real radio friendly sound to it and shows Bailey Rae knows how to write a hook if she wants to.
Title track "The Sea" references death, but ironically the song was written before Bailey Rae's husband died. It is about her grandfather's death - he had drowned at sea but unbeknownst to Bailey Rae for many years was the fact her aunt had witnessed his death and the song's lyrics ponder how her aunt had carried that memory with her for so long.
"The Sea" is soulful and stark with a delicate piano backing track which acts as a perfect counterpoint to Bailey Rae's voice as she plaintively sings _"the majestic sea...takes everything from me" The lyrics are poetic - perhaps not quite as poetic as "Diving for Hearts", a song which belies Bailey Rae's English literature degree.
The songs which references Bailey Rae's loss the most is "I Would Like to Call it Beauty", which is a raw and honest tribute to her husband. The title was coined from a conversation Bailey Rae had with her husband's brother about God - with non religious Philip Rae using the title as a metaphor for what he believed in. He gets a song writing credit on this slow, jazzy organ backed song which is sung with a voice which can convey both strength and fragility within the same stanza.
"The Sea" is, understandably perhaps, an altogether darker work than Bailey Rae's eponymous debut album and it is, in places, intensely personal too. It lacks a radio friendly hit like "Put Your Records On""
I put off listening to this for a long time but I am glad I finally bought it. "The Sea" isn't always an easy listen, especially if you have been in the same place as Bailey Rae has been in the past couple of years, but it is an interesting one - featuring songs which blend an effective and versatile voice with lyrics which are poetic and intelligent.
The album avoids taking us to the depths of Bailey Rae's despair - the pain of loss is evident but so too is the genuine love she has for her husband.
There is an overall sense of emerging from the darkness when one listens to this album. I sincerely hope that writing and recording it has helped her cope with her continuing grieving process - the overall feeling I got from listening was one of hope and optimism - and I could relate to that because the words I have seen every day outside the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art have kept me going and I sense that Corinne has realised that eventually, everything IS going to be alright.
It almost goes without saying that Corinne Bailey Rae's first album left everyone with a taste for "more". Then came the personal tragedy of her husband's death, which certainly took its toll on her, and partially delayed further creative work. The exact effect that period in her life had on her music was widely discussed both in conjecture as well as from her own admissions, but thankfully neither the publicity nor her private grief stopped her. With her second album, Corinne seems to have found no small amount of strength - both emotionally and musically - which brings the listener in to a state of intimacy, allowing us to connect with the music on both those levels. If I had to sum up Corinne Bailey Rae's second album, "The Sea" in one word, I think I'd probably choose the word 'dynamic', and for several different reasons.
First of all, this album seems to have a very interesting musical theme running through it. That being where many of the songs start out quieter or on the soulful side and then build to something heavier or brighter, calming down again for the ending. This doesn't sound as good on paper as it does on the CD, and I fear that I'm not explaining it very well. Imagine if you will, a ripple in the ocean which builds to a huge wave that comes crashing to the shore, and then returns sliding back into itself. This is the metaphor that fits most of the songs here. And for a collection called "The Sea", I find this doubly appropriate. It is as if she took this characteristic and applied it to her songs - which are nothing short of genius, if you ask me. And, according to an interview with her in Blues & Soul Online, this was exactly what she had in mind. What's more, some of the songs incorporate subtle builds, while others are more dramatic, practically making one feel you're getting two songs in one. This happens most pointedly in "Are You Here" and of course, in the title track "The Sea". The best example, however, is in "Love's On Its Way", where about ¾ of the way through this initially soft song, she brings in the 'big guns' (so to speak) with a full blown orchestra of strings, strong drums and even a background choir before pulling it back to the opening softness.
This also means we get to hear some new dynamics of her voice. We've already heard her famous soulful side of her voice, but here she show us how she handles "belting it out". And "belt it" she can - without ever sounding screechy or tinny or even the least bit harsh. This is probably where this album differs most to her debut album, which also shows she's maturing as an artist. Whereas her first album had a much more playful feel to it, this one is highly charged with emotions, which she uses her vocal ability to emphasize. This shows up as almost rock vocals in upbeat songs like "The Blackest Lily" and "Paris Nights and New York Mornings", both of which have enough of a jazzy/R&B twist to them to make them both uniquely Corinne. Even more so, Corinne moves from jazz to R&B to blues to soul so freely here, that you might wonder if this album isn't a touch confusing. I can assure you, however, that she combines these genres in a way that distinguish her artistically, and make her all the more special and interesting to listen to. There's even a bit of a Motown feel to the song "Paper Dolls" that is engagingly charming.
The last type of dynamic I felt in this album was through the lyrics of these songs. In that same interview, Corinne mentioned that water comes into play often in this album's lyrics, which was part of the reason for the album title. But that's not all that I observed here. Beginning with the opening track "Are You Here" which was written out of her grief at the loss of her husband, and straight through to the last song "The Sea" we get some of the most powerful lines, combined with raw emotions that somehow never seem to lose sight of hope. The latter song says "The sea brings everything, crushes everything, cleans everything, takes everything from me", and in the former song she says "It's hard to recall the taste of summer / When everywhere around, the chill of winter". Both of these are "Wow" moments of naked grief, but then in "I'd Do It All Again" she says "someone to love is bigger than your prides worth / Is bigger than the pain you got for it hurts / And out runs all of the sadness / It's terrifying, life, through the darkness / And I'd do it all again", which couldn't be more hopeful and positive, despite the underlying hurt you can feel here. If that's not enough, there are some truly poetic lines such as "peeled off my skin, slipped right in" from the song "Diving for Hearts" that will thrill you, even if you aren't a poetry lover.
In all, I can't find any fault with this collection. From start to finish there's something fascinating in each and every song here. She's never overpowered by the instrumentals even when they're at their heaviest, and we get to enjoy her lovely voice throughout. Her messages in this album are poetically presented, without ever being obtuse. The maturity of the material shows us both her thoughtful side as well as her playful one. And finally, the diversity gives us a collection you're going to want to hear over and over again. I couldn't give this album less than 5 stars out of 5 and highly recommend it.
Davida Chazan © April 2010
1. Are You Here
2. I'd Do It All Again
3. Feels Like The First Time
4. The Blackest Lily
6. Love's On Its Way
7. I Would Like To Call It Beauty
8. Paris Nights/ New York Mornings
9. Paper Dolls
10. Diving For Hearts
11. The Sea
The Blues & Soul Online interview can be found at http://bit.ly/czz85w
This album can be purchased new from Amazon for £8.95, through any one of their various marketplaces from £6.17, or downloaded in MP3 format from there for £5. Let me just say that personally, I wouldn't want to download this album - I like it too much for that and would want to have a "hard" copy!
The Sea is Corinne Bailey Rae's second album, the follow up to her incredible debut album. Its release came in January this year following her hiatus from the music scene after her husband's death. I loved her first album, how young and fresh sounding she was; how much youth she seemed to carry in her voice and her light hearted tunes and I was interested to hear if her music had changed after all that she'd been through since her debut was released. The difference is incredible; every song on this album is oozing buckets of soul and I cannot get enough of it.
1. Are You Here
A mellow, slow paced tune. At my first listen to the album I couldn't help but well up listening to this knowing what Rae has been through. The soul in her voice is so powerful and it felt like something I'd not heard from her before. The song picks up in pace with a variation of drum beats. Everything runs smoothly and Rae's voice is so relaxing and beautiful.
2. I'd do it all Again
Undoubtedly my favourite song on the whole album. A song that I had on repeat for days. I love the soul, the lyrics 'My heart's an open door you've got all you came for baby' and the tune. The song picks up in pace as if Rae is telling a story that she just cannot keep in. It is engaging on every level. The low, slow tones from the electric guitar and the other string instruments compliment the harmonies that Rae sings with perfection. A brilliant song.
3. Feels Like the First Time
The piano in this song is striking. I wish that it could be repeated throughout the song and not just in the chorus and introduction. I cannot get enough of the tune. It is so dramatic and high and classic that I can't help but feel like it is wasted in this song. That's not to say that this is a bad song, I have listened to this song repeatedly and enjoy it a lot, I just can't help but feel like there's too many different tunes going on at once here.
4. The Blackest Lily
I love how upbeat this song is and the guitar solo is brilliant. I wasn't expecting a song quite like this one on this album as, to me, it sounds very different to a lot of Rae's more recent songs. She sounds youthful and playful in this song but still soulful and powerful.
Some cool electric beats feature in this song which seem to run easily against Rae's smooth vocals. Aside from the instrumental the song stays at this low, jazzy tone throughout which is not dull at all, the opposite actually. You cannot listen to this brilliant song without tapping your foot or bopping your head or singing a long. I love how many different instruments Rae seems to have featuring on this album, it adds layers and makes for a really interesting listen.
6. Love's on it's Way
A really heavily laid with emotion track with some cheerless piano. The lyrics are full of upset and Rae seems to sing it with complete serenity. Just like with Are You Here, I couldn't listen to this track and forget what Rae had been through; it is completely obvious when you lsiten to this song and the lyrics 'Never felt so powerless'- right at the beginning is one of the most emotive lines in a song I've ever heard.
7. I would like to call it Beauty
A song where Rae truly gets the chance to show off how strong and charming her voice is. Lots of beautifully written lines are complimented by some mellow acoustic guitar. Rae carries notes like no one else, here she demonstrates that she really is in another league to a lot of the singers out there nowadays.
8. Paris Nights / New York Mornings
Such a brilliant song! I cannot stop myself from getting up and dancing when this chirpy, energetic song comes on. There is some lovely electric guitar as well as soft drumming and obviously Rae's joyful singing voice. Some critics have said that this song feels 'out of place' on the album due to its chirpy nature. I think it's necessary that this gong is on the album however, it lifts the spirits of the listener and it's good to have a variation of styles on an album and Rae has shown that she can do that through this song amongst her others.
9. Paper dolls
Another one that you'll want to dance along to. A song filled with soul at the same time. The drum beat variation keeps this song sounding fresh and chirpy. Rae's desperate lyrics 'Nobody told me I could do something, nobody told me I could be something' give the song a kind of childish air that suits her voice well in this song.
10. Diving For Hearts
Another of my favourite tracks on this album; I'm a sucker for its dream-like introduction. 'I longed for you like the love sick moon pulls the tide'. I love the power from the chorus and how poetically it all fits together. Rae is an outstanding writer and that is most evident in this song in my opinion.
11. The Sea
Bailey sounds very youthful here once more which makes for a satisfying end to a brilliant album. The song is slow in pace, beats that linger for a little longer and Rae's 'Goodbye' lyrics both fit together perfectly.
I am completely shocked that I am the first to review this album as it is such an outstanding piece of music. I would recommend this album to anyone; it is easy to listen to and is full of raw emotion and soul. This really, in my opinion is Corinne Bailey Rae at her musical peak. I love that through all her pain and despite how soulful she is in this album there are moments when she just sounds do young and child-like; it all makes for beautiful listening and a great album. 5/5 from me.
The Sea can be bought from Amazon for £8.94 at the moment.
Thanks for reading! :)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Are You Here
2 I'd Do It All Again
3 Feels Like The First Time
4 The Blackest Lily
6 Love's On Its Way
7 I Would Like To Call It Beauty
8 Paris Nights/ New York Mornings
9 Paper Dolls
10 Diving For Hearts
11 The Sea