Corinne Bailey Rae doesn’t seem like the sort of person who enjoys drawing attention to herself — which is somewhat disingenuous, given that she’s a performer by profession. Her innate subtlety proved to be both a blessing and a curse at this intimate Gotham showcase for her upcoming Capitol album, “The Sea,” a disc that marks a comeback from a lengthy hiatus exacerbated by the overdose death of her husband and musical collaborator Jason Rae.
The singer didn’t address that traumatic event directly on Wednesday (which came as no surprise), nor did the new songs feel suffused with its after-effects. Yes, the tunes were a bit darker in tone, a bit less downy in texture, but there was little catharsis to be felt, aside from in “The Blackest Lily,” which bared something of an edge.
Rae seemed most comfortable when cradling a guitar, which she did for a good portion of the set, plucking some plangent notes on a warm version of “Like a Star” and a busy-but-buoyant “Paris Nights/New York Mornings.” Having the instrument as a shield encouraged Rae to emote a bit more as well; when stepping to the microphone sans guitar, she was tentative, even meek, offering more murmurs than melisma.
That delivery proved a benefit on pieces like the title track, a pensive bit of melodrama suited to a whisper, but cushioned the potential punch of Rae’s biggest stateside hit “Put Your Records On,” on which her strong ensemble was used as a veil of sorts, allowing her voice to peek out only now and then.
The material from “The Sea” came across as thoughtful and personal, but not deeply engaging — an issue that Rae could address easily enough by showing her emotions as well as telling listeners about them.