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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

Thursday, April 15, 2010.

I love classic songs: because they are so pure and succinct. That’s what I tried to do with my own songs. They are short and sweet, to the point. I like the idea of leaving people wanting more, not less, you know?
—Corinne Bailey Rae

Could it be pure coincidence that Corinne’s father is from St. Kitts (which is where Joan Armatrading is from)? Could it be coincidence that both Joan and Corinne are songwriter/singers? Could it be coincidence that they both are into pop music?


Though there are similarities, there are also differences. When I first heard Corinne, I wasn’t overly impressed. It took me a couple of times to really get it. And then when I saw her videos, I more completely understood, because I saw that her sound was not an affectation but rather a sincere announcement of a new voice on the block.


At 27 years old she has over ten years of professional and semi-professional musical experience. Much like some of the jazz vocalists she admires, she paid her dues developing her talents before signing to a major label. She is no overnight discovery.

Her debut album is good; very, very good in spots. But beyond the studio work, the live cuts reveal a songwriter who can really sing. A slip of a woman, whose slight frame, crooked smile and wide-eyed air of innocence is beguiling and far more seductive, in an enchanting way, than the bump-and-grind, in-your-face persona proffered by the proliferation of sex-vixens that is the common profile of twenty-something female singers in contemporary music.

All four of the songs are from Corinne’s eponymous debut, although
“Put Your Records On” and “Til It Happens To You” are live versions of the album tracks. If you click on the song title, you can view the performance videos.
Corrine’s big single is “Put Your Records On” and the beautiful video for the song is also available online.

In a feature for the BBC, in which she was selected as the best up-and-coming artist of 2006, Corinne explained her view of songwriting with an emphasis on personal relationships: “A lot of the songs are hopeful and optimistic about love but also really realistic, from my own experience knowing that people can start off feeling so close and things can really fall apart. I couldn’t write a totally rosy view of love because that’s just not my experience and it’s not true. And it makes me annoyed when people do because I think it’s just selling people a lie." Go here to view an electronic press release (a video interview with snippets of music and live appearances)—be patient it’s 15 minutes long and takes a long time to download.

Corrine’s songs are based on a clear-eyed examination of life experiences, and as such are truthful reflections of complex situations. The hallmark of sophisticated writing is the ability to clearly present contradictions, helping the audience to relate to and feel the push and pull of conflicting emotions without labeling one or the other totally wrong or totally right. Hitting the right notes, the right tone to express the ambiguities of relationships is not a simple accomplishment.


While her songwriting is strong, she has some many other musical elements going on for her: it’s the way her voice breaks a beat before or after gliding and swooping,; the way she negotiates the movement from husky contralto to soaring in the soprano range with seemingly effortless grace, the shyness (which could easily be interpreted as innocence) at the edges of her mature declarations; all of that adds to her artistry and causes the listener to take notice.

Really, what is attractive about Corinne Bailey Rae is the total package: the songs, the voice, the performing persona. Corinne is starting off with a bang. Here’s hoping she can sustain her career for forty plus years as has Joan Armatrading. That would be much more than a wonderful coincidence, that would be damn near a miracle. If she does it, Corinne will be only the second British-based, female singer/songwriter to do so.


Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 


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