The sadness that permeates Corinne Bailey Rae's sophomore album, "The Sea" (Capitol), is expected. She was in the middle of working on it when her husband, Jason, died of an apparent methadone overdose in 2008. The strength and the depth? Those are true surprises.
Rae's 2006 debut was light, her breakthrough single, "Put Your Records On," practically the definition of breezy, an effortless sliver of acoustic soul that sounded like it could float away at any moment.
Nearly everything on "The Sea" is far heavier, more substantial. Rae's new songs have far more rock and jazz elements than before. The opener, "Are You Here," where she sings of her husband in the present tense over a rock guitar groove that fits between Courtney Love and Sheryl Crow, makes the most of the new sounds.
Even when she mines the neosoul territory of the debut, Rae shows impressive growth. "Closer" is a sultry surprise, breathy soul that could easily fit on Maxwell's last album that is easily the album's best shot at an R&B hit. "Paris Nights / New York Mornings" adds a bit of Style Council-ish Britpop to the mix for the album's peppiest moments.
However, it's the title track from "The Sea" that hits hardest. Swells of instruments and voices resolve into a wrenching ending of Rae delicately but resolutely singing, "The sea, the majestic sea, breaks everything, crushes everything, cleans everything, takes everything from me." Like most of the album, it's beautiful, well crafted and, ultimately, devastating.
CORINNE BAILEY RAE
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BOTTOM LINE Turning tragedy into her own truth