Soul songstress moves from dark­ness to light

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC - By Mark Jor­dan

Corinne Bai­ley Rae is look­ing for­ward to her visit to Mem­phis this week­end.

“First time ever, and I can’t wait,” says the Bri­tish neo-soul singer, who makes a tour stop Sun­day at the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street.

Bai­ley Rae first dis­cov­ered the city’s mu­si­cal legacy while grow­ing up in Leeds, Eng­land, in the 1990s through Stax great Isaac Hayes’ late­ca­reer come­back. “I guess the blues is just such an in­flu­ence on all pop­u­lar mu­sic, even if I hadn’t been aware of par­tic­u­lar mu­si­cians, their mu­sic has sort of soaked in.”

Be­sides per­form­ing, Bai­ley Rae, 37, will look to spread some of that mu­si­cal aware­ness among younger gen­er­a­tions of mu­si­cians dur­ing her visit here; be­fore the con­cert, she’ll host a sound­check meet-and-greet and Q&A with 20 Stax Mu­sic Academy stu­dents, and she is pro­vid­ing them with tick­ets for the show. It’s one of sev­eral ed­u­ca­tional events the singer is do­ing on this tour, a nur­tur­ing as­pect to her ca­reer that re­flects a new­found joy in the artist’s life.

Bai­ley Rae’s joy is hard-won. She ex­ploded onto the scene a decade ago with her self-ti­tled de­but al­bum, a breezy, jazzy mod­ern soul col­lec­tion that sold 4 mil­lion copies. Two years later, she won her first Grammy Award for work­ing on Her­bie Han­cock’s Joni Mitchell trib­ute and was mid­way through work on her ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated sec­ond al­bum when tragedy struck: Her hus­band of seven years, sax­o­phon­ist Ja­son Rae — who played with her as well as Amy Wine­house and oth­ers — died of a drug over­dose. Bai­ley Rae was dev­as­tated but by 2010 had re­cov­ered enough to com­plete “The Sea,” a crit­i­cally ac­claimed al­bum that wres­tled with her grief.

Now six years later, she is back with a new hus­band; a new al­bum — her third full-length al­bum, “The Heart Speaks in Whis­pers”; and a re­newed spirit.

“It’s def­i­nitely about trans­for­ma­tion, mov­ing from dark­ness to light and bit­ter­ness to sweet­ness,” Bai­ley Rae says of the record, which came out in May. “That’s some­thing that’s been hap­pen­ing to me re­ally grad­u­ally over the past few years. Be­ing able to learn from na­ture and how you can some­times be in an en­vi­ron­ment that’s been re­ally dev­as­tated by a hur­ri­cane or a vol­cano or a fire and see

new life com­ing through, see na­ture fight­ing back and the nat­u­ral or­der be­ing re­stored.”

That spirit of trans­for­ma­tion is very much present on “The Heart Speaks in Whis­pers,” a buoy­ant, deeply groov­ing record that, as ev­i­dent on the lead sin­gle, “Been to the Moon,” pushes onto the cut­ting edge of con­tem­po­rary R&B.

Bai­ley Rae be­gan work on the al­bum in her na­tive Leeds with long­time col­lab­o­ra­tors Steve Chrisan­thou and her hus­band of three years, Steve Brown. Cre­atively anx­ious, Bai­ley Rae kept hear­ing dif­fer­ent mu­si­cians than she could get in Eng­land, so the pro­duc­tion de­camped to Los An­ge­les. There she was able to col­lab­o­rate with A-list play­ers like bassists Esper­anza Spald­ing, Pino Pal­ladino and Mar­cus Miller (Miles Davis, Han­cock) and drum­mer James Gad­son (Bill Withers, Mo­town, Beck).

“With (Gad­son), it was his sound I was look­ing for, his vibe, and sim­i­larly with Pino Pal­ladino,” says Bai­ley Rae of as­sem­bling her dream team. “I re­ally wanted them to work to­gether. I didn’t know at that time they had worked to­gether. They had just worked to­gether on D’an­gelo’s record. But I thought they would re­ally work well to­gether, and they do.”

In fact, in L.A., Bai­ley Rae dis­cov­ered in­spi­ra­tion in a resur­gent, vi­brant R&B scene. Be­sides play­ing with mu­si­cians who are reg­u­larly called to back up the likes of Bey­oncé, D’an­gelo, Erykah Badu and Adele, she ended up writ­ing and record­ing with Grammy-win­ning song­writer and pro­ducer Malay (James Ho) and sis­ters Am­ber and Paris Strother of the hot neo-soul trio KING.

“I found a real kin­ship with them,” says Bai­ley Rae of the sis­ters, who to­gether and sep­a­rately ended up work­ing on four tracks on “The Heart Speaks in Whis­pers.” “It’s so great to work with young peo­ple, so great to work with other women. Get­ting to go to shows and hear Moses Sum­ney play and Thun­der­cat play — I just feel like there’s so much hap­pen­ing in L.A. right now, and I love spend­ing time there. It was very in­spir­ing to be around peo­ple who are do­ing re­ally new things with soul mu­sic, bring­ing in a lot of in­die and rock and more ex­per­i­men­tal hip-hop an­gles.”

De­spite her love af­fair with Los An­ge­les, Bai­ley Rae has no plans to leave Leeds any time soon, inas­much as she will see it at all in the com­ing months. With a packed tour sched­ule and a back­log of mu­sic ready to be re­leased as well as new songs com­ing down the pipe, she doesn’t ex­pect to be home any time soon.

“I want to just keep work­ing,” she says. “There’s a big gap be­tween my two al­bums, and it’s re­ally made me sort of itch for just mak­ing more and more mu­sic. I feel en­er­gized by that time away, and I just want to make as much mu­sic as I can.”

ALEXAN­DRA VALENTI/COUR­TESY VIR­GIN EMI RECORDS

Bri­tish soul songstress Corinne Bai­ley Rae per­forms Sun­day at the New Daisy Theatre.

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