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Monday, May 18, 2020

My favorite musician

Corinne Bailey Rae performs on a recent tour.
If Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell had a baby, she would be Corinne Bailey Rae.

This British singer-songwriter is that unique, and that good.

I became an instant fan in 2006, while watching the great and too-short-lived TV series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, in which Howie Mandel, portraying himself as the guest host of a fictional Saturday Night Live-type show, introduced Bailey Rae as the episode's guest musical artist. As she launched into Like a Star, the camera only lingered on Bailey Rae for about 10 seconds before pulling back to the drama of the program's fictional characters. But, by then, I was totally hooked.

Debut album cover
Sure, I wasn't alone - that year's debut album launched two big hits (Like a Star and Put Your Records On), got a bunch of nominations, and sold millions of copies, as did her second album, The Sea, from 2010. Eventually she won a couple of Grammys, one for a Mitchell song she recorded with Herbie Hancock, and several of her songs make up the soundtrack of the film Venus, in which Peter O'Toole created a role that nearly won him the Best Actor Oscar he so richly deserved throughout his career but never won.

Album #2: The Sea
Still, she is greatly underappreciated. This may be due to the challenge of today's extremely individualized or (conversely) overgeneralized commercial music market. Wikipedia has Bailey Rae categorized in the R&B and neo soul genres - as close as you're going to get, but far from the complete picture. She is really not a soul singer, but being bi-racial (and therefore perceived as black) probably pushes that label forward; neither is she a folk singer, but you could just as easily go there.

Third album cover
Maybe uncategorizable, but I'd probably choose pop as the nearest description, because it captures the infectiousness of her every song, and it's vague enough not to exclude the variations in style she easily embraces. Her lyrics have poetry, and charm, and bite. Her tunes are often atmospheric, though more than a few are also totally danceable. What it comes down to is that nearly impossible feat: She is an original.

I think Bailey Rae's third album, 2016's The Heart Speaks in Whispers, is even better than the other two, not a surprise for an artist of great talent who takes long breaks between releases. I find myself still listening to it often, and still getting new feelings from it each time. Live, she exudes a joy that is absolutely radiant, yes, like the sun. If you want to see what I mean, check out this NPR tiny desk concert.

I'm in awe. Just wanted to share that!

Bailey Rae performs at NPR in 2016

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