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Set against the bolshie little madams of British pop – Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone – Corinne Bailey Rae is Mrs Goody-Two-Shoes. Married, gracious and a proud Leeds lass, she doesn’t fall out of cabs, dresses or familiarity with her own speaking voice. And given the trashy column inches those tiresome “personalities” take up, it makes a welcome change that Bailey Rae is known to enjoy a decent book.
But therein lies her dilemma, if one can call it that. Her debut album, Corinne Bailey Rae, has sold 3m copies worldwide and, after an appearance on Oprah, nestled in the Billboard top five in the US. Yet its radio-friendly soul is often accused (by male rock hacks) of lacking vim. In short, is Bailey Rae too bland?
At her best, singing live and unalloyed by generic jazz-funk arrangements, absolutely not. On the bluesy “Till It Happens to You”, the newish song “No Love Child” and her favourite cover, Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, she has a keening gospel purity – not Aretha assuredly, but certainly the cute one who can melt hearts. That’s when one believes – as her marketing men would have it – she is the hat-check attendant, once overheard humming, who ends up centre-stage. Walking on with what looks like a mug of tea only confirms the image, or its pre- determination.
Aimed at the cuddle-on-the-sofa market, Bailey Rae conquers it with easy charm. She is ahead of Norah Jones, too, in already co-writing her material – Jones didn’t manage that until her third LP. Much of it, though, sounds designed by committee or borrowed, in part, from the wardrobes of Mary J. Blige (“I’d Like To”), Tammi Terrell (“Call Me When You Get This”) and Martina Topley-Bird (“Put Your Records On”). Bailey Rae has yet to flesh out her own style.
As ever, though, she shines brightest on the unadorned “Just Like a Star”. Then, to paraphrase Julia Roberts in the Richard Curtis romcom Notting Hill, she is just a girl singing in front of an audience, asking them to love her. And many here do.
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