With Valentine’s Day looming ever closer, supermarket shelves are starting to heave with love-themed compilations cynically compiled by marketing execs for that sentimental someone in an unimaginative life. Rather than simply raking in the royalties from her existing, more romantically inclined material (‘Like A Star’, ‘Put Your Records On’, ‘I’d Do It All Again’), Corinne Bailey Rae has created a mix of her own – five of her favourite love songs covered in varying styles that touch upon doo-wop, funk, rock, disco and slow-burning soul. The theme is interpreted liberally across the five tracks; love crops up in many guises, from physical lust to supernatural ardour, maternal guidance and emotional fidelity.
There’s a certain faithfulness, too, in the arrangements of some of the songs. The opening cover of Prince’s brazen ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ sticks tightly to the original formula with nimble, layered synth lines but Bailey Rae’s vocal, as valiant and creamy as it is, falls short of impressing her own stamp on the song. Her soulful take on ‘My Love’, Paul McCartney’s orchestral ode to wife Linda, is even more faithful to the original albeit in a stripped back fashion. Where so many earlier covers of the song have been mired in bathetic schmaltz, here the simple acoustic guitar melody is coaxed into a magical interplay with fluid, Stevie Wonder-esque keyboards and some graceful, tender harmonies. Old-fashioned and sublime, it suits Bailey Rae to a T.
The Love EP isn’t all so straightforward. There’s the unexpected inclusion of Belly’s eerie ‘Low Red Moon’ – a favourite of Bailey Rae’s as a teenager – for instance. Rather than the more subdued approach you might expect, the already guitar-heavy track gets an amped up rock treatment. A shock to hear at first, it quickly dawns that Bailey Rae can more than hold her own against a thrashing backdrop; her familiarly girlish coos are more fraught here, capturing the sense of awe and questioning unease that the lyric demands, and the whole ensemble has a deliciously different energy to anything we’ve heard from Bailey Rae before.
Another successful reinvention comes with a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love’. Bailey Rae’s own half-Caribbean heritage doesn’t restrict her to the stock reggae tropes that others have peddled; instead, she and her band show impressive guile by shifting it into a 6/8 time signature, slowing down the tempo and giving the song a 1970s gospel-style piano arrangement accented by doo-wop guitar. The result is classic sounding, as if the song was always meant to be this way.
The thirteen-minute reworking of ‘Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)’ – the set-closer on the band’s ongoing world tour – is another bold move for Bailey Rae, taking obvious inspiration from Sly & The Family Stone’s funked-up version from 1973′s Fresh. A duet with guitarist John McCallum, the showstopping moment translates energetically to this live recording. If anything, it sounds a tad overbaked and could certainly have lost the last four minutes of jamming, but it stands proud as an example of Bailey Rae’s willingness to explore possibilities beyond her characteristic soul-pop.
Bailey Rae has indulged her dreams to make this brief collection, and her enjoyment in doing so comes through loud and clear; fans could do much worse than to show some self-love of their own and download it come its Valentine’s release date.
[Good Groove/Virgin; February 14, 2011]
Tagged corinne bailey rae