- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

Corinne Bailey Rae’s sleeveless emerald green dress swished as she stepped onto the Birchmere stage Sunday night. She closed her eyes, cocked her head and drew her arms up slowly to the first notes of “Call Me When You Get This,” her voice even clearer and fuller than on her chart-busting self-titled album.

“I’ve got all this poetry now I didn’t know then/I kept it inside,” she cooed as the crowd looked on enchanted.

Critics have likened the doe-ish singer to Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu and Norah Jones, and indeed, her vocal quality and songwriting ability elicit such comparisons. But it’s her grace that seals the deal.

Miss Rae exudes a timeless classiness that few of today’s pop stars possess. Her songs discuss bewitching love, not promiscuity; her concert evokes a supper club, not a strip club.

Given her background, this all makes sense; the Leeds-born songstress spent her formative years singing in church, training in classical violin, majoring in English lit and working at a jazz club. But during her youth, Miss Rae also developed rock roots. As a teenager, she founded an indie band called Helen, where her love for artists like L7 and Veruca Salt surfaced. Though Helen was eventually forced to disband, the group attracted considerable attention and ultimately helped start Miss Rae’s solo career.

Her debut album landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s U.K. charts, and her U.S. popularity continues to boom thanks to her haunting ballad “Like a Star” and the playful “Put Your Records On.” Miss Rae performed these and other tracks from her disc on Sunday, alternately cooing and belting her tunes. Four musicians and two backup singers shared the stage with her, although they didn’t perform any extra solos or flourishes; they seemed to be there merely to let Miss Rae shine.

In addition to performing her own tracks, Miss Rae also threw in a surprising tribute to her thrashier past: a stirringly soulful version of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The night’s audience favorites were clear: the upbeat “Put Your Records On” and “I’d Like To,” although the heavy instrumentation buried her voice a bit.

Her true prowess showed in quieter moments, like when she perched on a stool for “Like a Star.” Accompanied only by a lead guitarist, Miss Rae strummed away as she told of love’s complexity, her voice lingering long after the song’s conclusion, “Just like oil on my hands.”

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