ALBUM REVIEW Corinne Bailey Rae, 'The Love EP' (Capitol)
British soul child Corinne Bailey Rae is a tough act to market. She's beautiful, yes; cool as all get-out, too. And her lilting, heavily accented voice is unique at a time when a lot of her peers are not. Her debut hit, 2006's lazy-day special Put Your Records On, was a vaguely reggae sing-along that stuck with young female listeners and/or anyone trying to get lucky at a beach bonfire.
That said, the 31-year-old Leeds native has no desire to be a modern-day star, and is instead much more interested in an earthy, introspective early '70s aesthetic. She's like a female John Legend, but without the club bangers and Kanye West on speed dial. Has that turned off her younger audience? Maybe. Her sophomore album, 2010's The Sea, was a disappointment commercially and critically. Her Capitol Records label isn't sure what to do with her, either. Case in point: The Love EP, a five-song set of covers that sure seems like quickie contract filler.
Still, if this is an audition for another label, it's a fine one. An opening take on Prince's I Wanna Be Your Lover is delivered straight, disco-ball synths and all. The gender switch on the inherently rambunctious dancer adds heat, plus it's nice to hear Rae, usually so somnambulant, up the tempo on us. A spare, baroque reading of Paul McCartney's My Love is painfully pretty and a tremendous showcase for her flawless delivery. Bob Marley's Is This Love and Sly Stone's reworking of Que Sera Sera (which clocks in at 13 minutes) are smoky and warm in all the right places, but Rae has to stretch very little to get there.
If you're counting, you know there's one song left, and it's a doozy. Making a fantastic bid to sing the next Bond song, the singer takes on Belly's Low Red Moon, from the jangle-pop band's 1993 smash album Star. (That's the one with Feed the Tree and Gepetto on it.) Belly lead singer Tanya Donelly had little-girl curl in her voice, and so does Rae. That mock innocence provides contrast to the song's grinding, guitars and stalker vibe. The track is a total departure for Rae, a head-scratcher if it weren't so awesome. I'm not sure if it's going to help her rediscover an audience, but it's definitive proof that she certainly deserves to.
Jay & 'Ye 'H.A.M.' it up
Standing for "Hard as a Mutha-----," utterly ridiculous Jay-Z and Kanye West duet H.A.M. is the first single from the rappers' upcoming joint album Watch the Throne, due in March. The single, which blends operatic bombast, genuine diva bellowing and thuggy braggadocio, is getting ripped by fans and critics alike, but I happen to like its resolute over-the-topness and roasting of Lil Wayne. Sure, it's ultimately a lark, a throwaway tune. And Jay-Z should have learned from his notoriously lame collaborations with R. Kelly. Two big hip-hop personalities sharing a project isn't the best idea, especially since Kanye's ego is 10 times the size of R.K.'s robust one. But H.A.M. still delivers a goofy zing. In fact, with all that sinister pseudo-religious chanting, it's as if Mssrs. West and Z are starring as a couple of wise-cracking priests in a remake of The Omen. In related news, that would be the greatest movie ever. To hear H.A.M., go to Pop Life online at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.
Dr. Ozzy is in . . . and lucid?
When Rolling Stone starting running an Ozzy Osbourne advice column, there was no doubt much winking going on at the magazine. After all, the British rock wreck is a veritable compendium of bad lifestyle choices. His advice to the lovelorn and confused would be ludicrous and, if all went well, hilarious. But a funny thing happened on the way to the satire: Dr. Ozzy turned out to be thoughtful, helpful. I get about 10 mags at home, from the New Yorker to Entertainment Weekly, and Dr. Ozzy is my favorite feature in any of them. (Oz's "advice" also runs in England's Sunday Times.) Most of the letters are tough to print in a family paper. But a Maryland reader recently wrote in saying that a male friend was showing off provocative cell phone pix of a girl he was dating. Turns out the girl was the letter writer's friend, as well. Should he tell her about the cell phone pix? Should he not rat out his buddy? Osbourne responded: Send me the pictures and I'll decide. Seriously, though, this ain't a question of some bulls--- code of male honor. If she's a friend, and you want her to stay your friend — tell her. Simple as that. See? Ozzy is all-knowing! Maybe the doc can help you when he plays the St. Pete Times Forum on Feb. 18.
RAE OF LIGHT