On Tuesday night my son and I heard Corinne Bailey Rae‘s performance at The Cannery Ballroom here in Nashville – the sixth stop on the first leg of her 2016 world tour.
I’ve admired Corinne’s music since I was introduced to her many years ago, but this was the first time I heard her sing live. It was a wonderful, moving experience.
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In the summer of 2007 we took a vacation to visit family in Florida. One night while we were staying at my parents’ home, my father put the video of Corinne’s concert at St. Luke’s in London on the television. I was enchanted – by her songs themselves, her excellent band and tight arrangements, and mostly by the infectious joy with which she sings. Shortly after we returned home to Nashville, I bought a copy of her very successful 2006 self-titled debut album, and tried to wait patiently for what she would release next.
Put Your Records On ~ Corinne Bailey Rae live at St. Luke’s, London 2006
I was shocked and saddened to learn of her first husband’s Jason Rae’s death in 2008, and concerned for Corinne and her career, which had begun so hopefully.
Her second album The Sea was released in 2010 – four years after the first. It is, in my opinion, Corinne’s masterpiece: the most moving and profound musical expressions of love and grief I have ever heard. Preoccupied with my own life, I missed her Nashville performance when she was on tour with The Sea, and it was another six years until her next full album release The Heart Speaks in Whispers, which came out in May.
So I was thrilled when I learned that she would be performing again in Nashville, and we bought tickets the day they went on sale.
My son and I arrive at the venue as the opening act – Nashville R&B artist Jason Eskridge – is finishing his set. The Cannery Ballroom is already nearly full, and we maneuver our way into the crowd, eventually finding a place in the middle of the room where we will stand for the next two hours. Soon enough, the band comes on stage, followed by Corinne, and the show begins.
A slight figure in a sleeveless red dress, Corinne sings for about an hour and a half, backed by her tight four-piece band. Her hair is a lot longer now but otherwise she looks the same to me as she does in videos and photos I have seen. She plays guitar on roughly half – maybe more? – of the songs, usually acoustic, switching to her white electric for Paris Nights/New York Mornings from The Sea.
Corinne writes all of her own songs – mostly on her own, some in collaboration with others. Other than the five covers she released as The Love EP in 2011, all of her music is her own, and there is an immediacy and intimacy in her performance which emanates out from her presence on stage and envelops everyone in the room. There is no sense that Corinne is acting – she feels the emotions her music expresses deeply. As my son says, “she is so soulful”. She smiles constantly and beatifically throughout the entire performance.
On Tuesday night, Corinne sings Bob Marley’s Is This Love from The Love EP (she won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance for that single, how could she leave it out of her set?) but the rest of the night’s selections are drawn from her three albums of originals.
She sets down her guitar and speaks warmly to the crowd between songs, which are not merely covers of her own recordings – many of which feature horns – but new arrangements for the smaller band she is on tour with. There is a drummer and a guitarist, and two keyboard players, who each also take turns playing bass on some tunes. The band is tight and flexible, and play as a responsive unit, sensitive to Corinne’s performance first and foremost, but each enjoying solos at moments throughout the set.
The audience is mellow and intimately engaged with the music – when Corinne sings songs from her first album (now ten years old) – nearly everyone is singing along. On one song – Till It Happens To You – when she hears how strongly the crowd is singing, she puts down the mic at the beginning of the second verse and gestures the audience to sing it without her, then sings the second verse herself after the next chorus. After the first few lines of Put Your Records On, when she is not satisfied with the level of audience participation, she stops the band, tells us she now knows how well we can sing in Nashville! and exhorts us to sing along with this one.
Interspersed with her older songs she sings tunes from the new album, which are well-received. Every performance is a delight and there is no sense from the crowd of tolerantly waiting through the new material for the songs they came to hear.
As she sings, she extends her slender arms and long fingers, as if by their delicate movements she ensures that the music flowing from her heart and voice will reach every one of us in the room.
I stand in the crowd in my little eighteen inch square of floor space, moving with the music as I sing along with many of the songs. My son stands behind me, and often through the show I hear him singing along over my shoulder. I feel very fortunate that he is here with me, and that we can share this experience. Sometimes I turn to him and smile, when she begins a song I particularly like, or had hoped she would perform tonight.
Sometimes there are tears coursing down my cheeks as she sings and I am surprised and grateful that there is music like this, that can still touch me so deeply. Corinne’s music and her singing is imbued with the longing – a kind of yearning – that for me, is at the heart of the impulse to make music, to make any kind of art at all.
After the set is over, she returns to the stage to sing Like A Star – the first track on her first album, and a fitting encore. Then she says goodnight, the lights come up, and we make our way out of the venue and head towards the car.
Love it, Walter. Glad you’re happy and well!