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Living through the darkness: music after the tragedy

Given the tragedy artist Corinne Bailey Rae has faced in the recent past, it certainly would not be expected of her to do much for a while. After seven years of marriage, her husband, Scottish musician Jason Rae, was found dead in a Hyde Park flat. Doctors eventually ruled the death as accidental, saying Rae overdosed on a mixture of methadone and alcohol.
While she has admitted in interviews that she is still in the grieving process. She has, like a true artist, been able to channel her emotions into her music, using them as inspiration. Her sentiments permeate the album, and even, according to Bailey Rae, influenced the title. “I used to feel like I was right at the bottom of the ocean, totally overwhelmed. Then you felt like you’d be able to drift back up to the surface and breathe again,” she said.
“The Sea,” Bailey Rae’s second studio album since her 2006 self-titled debut, features 11 tracks exploring, at varying levels, the depths, dangers, and ecstasy of being in love. While her pitch-perfect, rusty voice is as honeyed as ever, she ventures out from the sweet, gamine charm of her first album and delves into a more experimental phase.
The album opens with a mellow opening riff in “Are You Here,” a charming yet powerful song about the overpowering, sometimes confusing nature of love. Her voice floats perfectly over the notes as she imparts her longing, “Are you here, ’cause my heart recalls that it all seems the same.” Half-way through, the song becomes, and creates a sense of being overtaken by the strength of one’s own feelings.
She wrote “Are You Here” to convey a sense of love that’s so intense as to be overwhelming, but it is not the only track that incorporates almost ethereal musical arrangements to highlight the emotion being expressed.
“Diving For Hearts,” perhaps the most atmospheric track on the album, opens slowly and quietly, as songs on her earlier album, features a potent riff at the chorus. She builds up from “there’s no cause for panic, there’s just bright cold calm” to a pounding “I long to keep on diving till my heart is found.” The song goes deeper and searches for something that has been lost.
Of course, there’s a sense that many of these songs were inspired by the turmoil following her husband’s death.
“I’d Do It All Again,” which features some lovely guitar picking on the intro, is almost mournful with Bailey Rae’s high pitched moaning. The song crescendos at “it’s terrifying, life, through the darkness,” suggesting the fear and uncertainty she felt, but triumphant despite the sadness with the repetition of the line “and I’d do it all again.” In her sighs, she clearly places her message; love can be terrifying, and yes, it is a huge risk, but the happiness it brings is well worth it. The track “I Would Like to Call It Beauty” offers a similar message in a slow, soft tone; “strained as love’s become, it still amazes me.” Though they can be hard, life and love are still precious and beautiful.
While there is a fair share of somber and yet sugary love songs on the album, there are also a few more up-beat tracks.
“Paris Nights/New York Mornings” brings the listener in with a nice jazz riff. The catchy beat gives a feeling of the simple days of young love, having fun and going out together in “love-filled nights.”
“Closer,” a track more about physical closeness than the lovey dovey part of love, gets way sexier, with a slow, steady beat backed by Bailey Rae’s sultry vocals. Near the end, her delivery gets breathy and less steady; she seems to be losing control of her own song from the power of her own desire. “The Blackest Lily,” while not as steamy, shares the same mood as she slides with her voice in a more classically jazz fashion until she gets louder and more aggressive at the chorus, “color my heart, make it restart.”
Throughout the album, Bailey Rae’s development as an artist is made lucidly apparent. She branches out from her more reserved, girlish style, opening up to the world of guitar riffs, organs, and distortion. She is more open about herself, talking of God and love simultaneously.
The closing track, “The Sea,” seems the clearest hint at loss. The song is sweet and sorrowful, speaking of the loss of a good relationship (she moans, “goodbye paradise”) while simultaneously wishing her lover well (“don’t you go around with anyone that makes you feel ashamed). It’s truly inspiring, an artist who has clearly learned and grown, a woman at her most mature.
This is a triumph of the always-tricky sophomore album; her essence is preserved, but there is something new, something exciting.
Something I’d listen to again.