ALBUM: The Heart Speaks in Whispers
ARTIST: Corinne Bailey Rae
Album release date: May 13, 2016
Corrine Bailey Rae has kind eyes, a soft speaking voice, and a love for etymology. The 37-year-old singer from Leeds has just released an album after six years of working under the radar as a producer and writer. She describes the album, entitled The Hearts Speaks in Whispers, as being about the interior voice which can only be discerned when one seeks silence. “It’s about how our bodies, nature, and everything around us has a lesson to teach us . . . It’s about ritualizing the present moment,” she says in an interview, a tranquil smile on her lips. She goes on to describe how, after her first husband died, a silence descended over her own life, and she wondered if she would ever experience “uncomplicated happiness” again. It was the kindness of others that gradually brought color and sound back into her life, she goes on; and her gratitude for the goodwill of other people is evident in her own manner of approaching others and in her way of describing this latest project.
Recorded in both Leeds and LA in collaboration with her long-time friend and more-recently husband, producer Steve Brown, The Heart Speaks in Whispers is a collection of 16 tracks which combine elements of R&B, pop, jazz, funk, and new wave soul (think futuristic, yet retro). Corrine Bailey Rae’s lovely, hushed voice moves through melodies that are ponderous, fluid and undeniably difficult to cover – much like her earlier work. The groove of these tunes is frequently chill and easy-going, with bursts of brashy vocals and instrumentation here and there to add texture to an otherwise fairly linear sonic landscape. Inchoate, featherlight lyrics hint at themes of renewal, remembered love, cosmic rendezvous, and embracing life as it comes to you.
It sounds expensive and splashy, luxurious and “tight”: but nearly all of the songs, with the exception of the tender High, obscure the delicate and unique angles of Bailey Rae’s voice (her most distinguishing feature as an artist) beneath predictable and formulaic studio trappings.
This album is best approached as a mood-piece rather than a clear-eyed look into the interior life of Corrine Bailey Rae. And it certainly sets a mood: emergent R&B group KING, bassist Marcus Miller, jazzcats Esperanza Spalding, Moses Sumney, and the Strother Sisters all hopped on board to create an album with epic neo-funk hues. Impressive though the line-up may be, however, in some ways this lack of tangible personality is a disappointment, for Rae comes across in interviews as being a very wise, tender-hearted woman with a decidedly sincere manner of engaging with life. The lyrics, production, and mix provide only a myopic, albeit groovy, depiction of the person beneath the music. Perhaps that was her intention, though, and perhaps these songs are simply meant to inspire in the listener that sense of “uncomplicated happiness” that evaded Corrine herself for a time – the happiness which stole back into her life gradually, like a contrast bar being boosted up bit by bit.