Jul 13, 2006

Article on Marjorie Fair Acoustic with Corinne Baily Rae

By Tom Roland

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Truly great artists earn their place through a delicate balancing act of two opposing traits: the good taste to build on the foundations of the accomplished performers who have come before them, and enough independence to rearrange those influences in a way that makes the newcomer unique.

England's Corinne Bailey Rae, who performed Monday at the Troubadour, has the goods to become a truly great artist. For now, she could become this year's creative equivalent of Norah Jones, a neo-classic singer with a sound so refreshingly old-school that it is almost daring in the way it goes against the grain of current pop.

Bailey Rae -- whose self-titled debut album was released stateside last week after a No. 1 U.K. debut this year -- has the clear resonance of Erykah Badu but occasionally folds in the sleepy rasp that accompanied Billie Holiday's work. But where Badu is a somewhat distant performer and Holiday cut a tragic swath, Bailey Rae presented her fluttering melodies with an engaging innocence.


Bailey Rae unveiled several more influences. She turned Led Zeppelin's slow-churning blues number "Since I've Been Loving You" into a classic torch song, then closed the piece with a Janis Joplin-like undercurrent. She also cited Stevie Wonder as the source for "Seasons Change," stocked with thick "Key of Life"-style harmonies.

While referencing so many performers with ties to the past, Bailey Rae was unequivocally present in the moment, experiencing each measure of music as it passed, remaining sensitive and centered whether she was cooking up a light-funk groove or an understanding mellow.

The four-piece rhythm section (augmented by two backup singers) mirrored her approach with an understated precision that incorporated spare but meaty bass notes, layered electronic keyboards and Steve Cropper-like minimalistic guitar.

Bailey Rae is gaining steam on smooth jazz playlists, though that's a bit misleading. On Monday, she ably captured the relaxed qualities that embody most of that genre's music, but she avoided its predictability and tapped into an elegant emotionalism that requires -- and rewards -- much more active listening.

Her intoxicatingly cheery disposition contrasted with the 35-minute set of opening act Evan Slamka, lead singer of Marjorie Fair. Performing solo with an acoustic guitar, he likewise reminded the listener of a well-established standard-bearer: His tenor sounded much like Bono without the Edge.

Lit in a shadowy, mysterious manner, Slamka repeatedly offered rainy-day songs that required him to hold extended notes in the strongest part of his tenor, the chords beneath changing ever so slightly to give the material a fluctuating melancholy. Ethereal lyrics and sketchy images provided a 1960s-era flair, creating a bittersweet sonic atmosphere.

That only enhanced the complementary opposition at work in Bailey Rae's music. The two performers struck a balance between sadness and joy, just as she tread confidently between grit and refinement, between old and new, between freedom and restraint. It is that seamless blend of contrasts that makes the great ones great.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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Jul 13, 2006 Article on Marjorie Fair Acoustic with Corinne Baily Rae
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