Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers

Corinne Bailey Rae

If you told Bailey Rae, just before she won the BBC’s Sound of 2006, what the next decade would bring, she may not have believed you: only the fourth woman to have a first album début at number one in the UK album charts; the death of her husband two years later; a raft of awards and nominations; performing at the White House and with Stevie Wonder.

Label: Virgin EMI
Time: 12 tracks /55 mins

After the playful soulfulness of her first disc and the tragedy of her second, this third release is infused with joy. She has married long-time collaborator, Steve Brown, and the relief, love and hope of new beginnings glows through nearly every lyric.

Her musical influences have included funk, indie, soul and rock, resulting in a hybrid of styles that is possibly a mixed blessing.

It means that her music stands above the usual anonymous corporate output, but some parts of the album will hit the target market, while other parts risk a miss. Overall, this set of songs exudes a soulful vibe, spiced with electronica and pop stylings. But “Stop Where you Are” punches with an arms-aloft anthemic rock chorus; “Walk On” is languorous in its casual groove; and “Night” is the timeless, bluesy closing statement, there to keep those regular early comparisons with Billie Holiday from drifting too far away.

Of course, her greatest asset is that warm, expressive voice, which can either soar to the heights or hold a gentle tune with little backing. It is the latter that guides songs like “Green Aphrodisiac” and “Horse Print Dress”, their spacious, languid mood backlit by Californian sun.

These – especially the former – have been promoted songs around the time of the launch. This suggests an easy-on-the-ear R&B sound that can reach a wide audience, and while this is a very comfortable listen, by the same stroke it is too easily bracketed with a hundred other songs that taste like honey, but whose specific flavours disappear very quickly.

The aptly-named “Caramel” seems as close as anything to the heart of who she is. One hand reaches out to her more soulful audience, while the other extends to those happier with rock ballads. Through it all, her voice is centre-stage and gently in control, rising in power at points, just to let us know how much she offers, while remaining discreetly understated.

The Heart Speaks in Whispers represents a definite and fascinating staging post in her life and career I requested an interview to explore both how she has negotiated these strands of musical styles and how her faith has fared through the pressures of recent years. Sadly,  “Corinne regards her faith very much as a personal experience.”

Whether over time this will be seen as one of her stronger albums, time will tell, but it will probably take time for the exhilaration of new love to wear away and the complications of life to imbue another album with a more varied content. Her performance here is top quality, but it leaves me with the feeling that several songs could have been much deeper and richer.

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