Corinne Bailey Rae’s self-titled 2006 debut was a breath of fresh air—light’n’breezy soul happiness that deserved all the awards it won for the 27-year old British singer-songwriter.
Never has a second album been more of a turnaround. Rae’s husband, Jason Rae, died in 2008. The Sea is an apt metaphor for being cast adrift or for a future of unfathomable deepness and unknown dimensions. It’s also an album that has balls. It has soul. It has beautiful lyrical imagery and Joni Mitchell-style confessions. (Rae writes like a poet; words that stand up even without the music.) Most of all, though, it has her irresistible voice—influenced by Joan Armatrading—on a song cycle of love, hope, ghosts, redemption and, ultimately, survival.
What could have been a morbid affair about the grief of a widow has turned into a bold statement of independence—a funky delicious bass-bubbling stew that is as elevating to the spirit as it is challenging and visceral. (Talk about rising to the occasion!)
“Are You Here” and “I’d Do It All Again” starts an acoustic guitar-based synthesis of folk-pop-R’n’B that gets more and more complex to incorporate sultry torch stylings and rock. The arrangements seem to come out of nowhere for maximum impact: Rae’s crooning in that thin reedy idiosyncratic waif-voice, and you don’t see the liquid organ spills about to drench you as songs build in intensity, then ebb back, like the tide, and she’s seemingly left alone.
No one-hit wonder she, Rae has made the kind of album that will be referenced for years to come, and, in the process, has proven herself to be an exceptional artist, the kind of artist that her debut, although quite tasty, never even hinted at.