To be honest, I’ve never been a huge Corinne Bailey Rae fan. It’s not that I had any reason not to listen to or like her music - she’s just one of the thousands of talented artists in this world that hadn’t yet filtered to the top of my playlist. Making my own music and keeping up with all the artists on my general music-listening radar takes a talent for time-management that I’ve yet to achieve.
But I’d heard enough about Corinne Bailey-Rae to know that, whenever it was that I actually found the time to listen to her music, I would likely enjoy it. As I found out last night at Portland’s Roseland Theater, my intuitions about her music were quite the understatement. I absolutely loved it.
Prior to his death in March of 2008, I had been more familiar with Bailey-Rae’s late husband’s music than her own. Jason Rae, a Scottish saxophone player from Aberdeen, played with an incredibly talented horns-based funk / afro-beat / souljazz band called The Haggis Horns who were regular players at a party called Departure Lounge, which I used to help my promoter/DJ friend Astroboy (Chris Knight) organize from time to time.
I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland from 2006-2008 while pursuing my MSc at University of Edinburgh and found myself consistently amazed at the dedication to Motown sounds that came from Northern England and Scotland. Something about that land (persecution and prejudice at the hands of the English perhaps ?) seemed to resonate deeply with the sounds of Motown. Jason Rae was a Scottish Motown funksman through and through. Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve likely heard him play with Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson.
But to get back to the matter at hand, Corinne’s show at the Roseland Theatre last night was simply riveting, from start to finish. She and her band seamlessly moved between psychedelic northern soul, gospel-flavored balladry, Motown funk and soul, Jazz and other various eclectica from the last 50 years. Although tragic, one might argue that her late husband’s death might have inspired a type of soul-searching and mourning that has put Corinne Bailey Rae at the top of her musical game. But it also helps to have a voice that could shatter fortresses and a band that brings forth the sort of effortless virtuosity and dynamic range that hers did last night.
The band towed the musical line perfectly, playing at all times with rapt attention to what appeared to be the question of “will this phrase enhance or detract from what everyone else, especially Bailey-Rae, is doing right now ?” In other words, they accomplished something far too rare in public musical performance, even by top-billing artists of every genre: they listened to each other. Carefully and joyfully. The net effect was to provide the perfect balance of funk, rock and soul music to underscore the huge voice from Bailey Rae’s tiny frame.
It was a wonderful way to start Portland’s Soul’d Out Festival, a musical undertaking that I hope to see flourish for years to come. Corinne Bailey Rae’s music is EXACTLY what this town needs more of. Huge kudos to Corinne Bailey Rae, The (RED) Nights concert series, the whole Soul’d Out Festival crew and everyone else who made this show possible.
Below is a video I shot on my iPhone of Bailey Rae’s encore performance. Pardon the poor sound and video, but I think you’ll find the quality shines through.