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Going with soul music as a stairway to heaven

June 04, 2006|Natalie Nichols

Corinne Bailey Rae

"Corinne Bailey Rae" (Capitol)

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CORINNE BAILEY RAE has a passion for Led Zeppelin and a past that includes a teenage stint fronting a noisy indie-rock band. But the 27-year-old British singer-songwriter's debut (in stores June 20) betrays little of that, instead showcasing a freshly minted soul artist whose breezy tunes stylishly blend modern and retro touches, ruminating without cliche on love lost, found and eagerly pursued.

These 11 detailed, dreamy soundscapes, flecked with folky acoustic guitar, do hint at her Zep fetish, and Bailey Rae's agile voice has an eccentric edge that recalls Macy Gray as she ambles from jaunty soul-pop ("Put Your Records On") to sweeping balladry ("Choux Pastry Heart") to urgent, horn-flecked funk ("I'd Like To"). The tunes, however, are anything but heavy, blending pop-R&B, jazz, trip-hop and vintage disco flavors into sophisticated, sexy numbers with the lush tranquillity of Sade and the earthy polish of '70s-era Stevie Wonder.

Occasionally, i.e., the bland "Breathless," the plush production washes out emotional subtleties. Yet the sonic sparkles and curlicues never obscure Bailey Rae's quirky but effortless phrasing. Sometimes a half-step behind the beat, it telegraphs personality, lending a fetching sense of distracted internal discussion to the propulsive I'm-not-in-love song "Trouble Sleeping," while quietly imparting late-night desires in "Call Me When You Get This." She plays the Troubadour on June 26.

-- Natalie Nichols

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