“There ought to be a law against it.” That’s always been one of my favourite lines uttered by character actors in “B” movies. So many different connotations can be put into that one line, from negative to positive, that a good character actor can steal a whole scene if he or she plays it right.
Camera zooms in on old-timer standing on a street corner. Old timer shakes his head and squints into the camera, chews on the ends of his moustache, clears throat and spits a wad of unidentifiable something onto the street: “There ought’ a be a law ‘gains ‘t” they mumble. Camera pulls back as they deposit their other lung in the street.
There are times when I have no trouble agreeing with that sentiment. The most recent example arrived in my mail just the other day in the form of a new CD by an up and coming female singer from Great Britain named Corinne Bailey Rae. Before I’d even heard the first track from the young lady’s new disc, Corinne Bailey Rae, I’d thought of one such law already.
Stop comparing new black female singers with Billie Holiday. Not only is that an enormous burden of expectation to place on any singer starting out, I’ve yet to hear anyone sing Billie’s style of music with anything approaching her ability, but there’s a certain racist undertone to it that bothers me.
That’s a little vague, I know, and I can’t put my finger on why exactly it bothers me, it’s just a gut reaction. The closest I can get is that it feels like whoever has made that comment is limiting the new performer to one genre of music because of her colour. Or that it was decided in advance that she could only sing that style of music because she’s of African descent.
I know I’m leaving myself wide open to all sorts of ridicule and abuse for saying that, but it won’t be the first time, so I’m used to it. But before you unload on me consider this, have you ever heard anybody comparing Sarah McLaughlin or Madonna to any white female singers from either fifty years ago or even the near past? Anyway, it just made me feel a little uncomfortable in her case; you may now fire at will.
Okay, now that I’ve got my sensitive-white-liberal–guilt out of the way, let’s move along to the real issue at hand, the music. Once more, almost mantra like in its repetition, those infamous words sprang to my lips: “There ought to be a law against it.”
Corinne Bailey Rae has a great voice, expressive, warm, and with some unique vocal quirks that could really distinguish her from the pack. This is a woman, who, according to her bio, sang in a Led Zeppelin style band ten years ago, so she’s not ever going to be your average ballad singer or sweet little pop star. In fact, if allowed, I bet she could blow almost any female singer on the market out of the water.
Aye, and there’s the rub, if allowed. Somewhere along the line, someone has taken her in hand and moulded her into an early 21st century clone of Sade and other earlier purveyor’s of mellow, soulless, soul music. Listening to this disc it sounds like she’s being aimed directly at the adult easy listening stations with no stops in between.
Of course it’s not as if she’s an unwilling player in this scheme, she receives a writer’s credit on each of the discs eleven tracks, and plays the part in the promotional shots. Artfully messed curls, wide doleful eyes, and elegantly casual clothes combine to make her the complete package of safe, middle of the road soul singer.
The songs are all well-crafted, with lyrics that are of more than average intelligence, but are languid to the point of tranquilizing. A sure sign of a so-called soul singer not willing to commit whole heartedly to the emotional demands of the genre is their music having all the excitement of processed cheese. It bears a passing resemblance to the genuine article, but lacks everything that makes it exciting.
There really ought to be a law against record companies and producers squeezing talented individuals into neat little marketable packages. Corinne Bailey Rae has the voice, and the obvious intelligence to be far more than the limited vision that EMI has imposed on her and that is presented in her debut album Corinne Bailey Rae
Let’s hope that once they’ve established her and she’s made them some money, they will give her a little more room to work in. I’d love to hear her unleashed and giving voice to the full range of emotion she sounds capable of producing. Her new album will be officially launched on June 6th and currently you can download three songs from the album at iTunes.