Every couple of years, a female singer releases an album that inspires folks to crown her the new queen of "adult pop. "British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae is the latest to assume that mantle, but, as this Gotham bow proved, she stands apart from most of her predecessors because she's not so laid-back that she's laid out.
Every couple of years, a female singer releases an album that inspires folks to crown her the new queen of “adult pop” — usually a euphemism for music that’s sedate enough to provide background listening for shoppers at high-end boutiques. British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae is the latest to assume that mantle, but, as this Gotham bow proved, she stands apart from most of her predecessors because — to paraphrase the old 10 CC song — she’s not so laid-back that she’s laid out.
In addition to a chameleon-like array of vocal guises — from jazz thrush to soul stirrer — Bailey Rae possesses an all-too-rare sense of scope, a trait that kept her from injecting too much melisma into any of the songs she aired here. It’s not that she’s a shy performer — to the contrary, she worked the Bowery stage with confidence and charm — just that she’s clearly aware that it’s not necessary to beat an aud into submission via volume alone.
That attitude was most clear on a passel of airy tunes that strayed most from the brassiness at the core of Bailey Rae’s oeuvre. “Choux Pastry Heart,” a wispy piece with a hint of trip-hop ethereality, sent cool waves cresting over the overheated room, while the gentle “Like a Star” used the singer’s subtle acoustic strumming as its mode of persuasion.
The perf’s more upbeat numbers lacked some of the sonic depth of Bailey Rae’s recorded work, a shortcoming that could be pinned on the absence of its ubiquitous reeds and brass. That rearrangement didn’t take too much of a toll on the hit “Put Your Records On” — on which Bailey Rae’s throaty purr revealed a hint of Macy Gray whimsicality — but songs like “Since I’ve Been Loving You” could’ve used an extra dimension not provided by the cheesy keyboard effects that were slathered atop the melodies.
Bailey Rae didn’t get bogged down, however, and sailed through the perf with a freshness that belied her experience as a chart-topper in several European territories. Lack of guile alone doesn’t impart star quality, but combined with the natural beauty of her voice, Bailey Rae’s attitude certainly pushes her into the realm of truly special performers.