Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album.
Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album. (Courtesy photo)

Corinne Bailey Rae

"The Heart Speaks in Whispers"

"The Heart Speaks in Whispers," the third album from Britain's Corinne Bailey Rae, doesn't boast a single as immediately catchy as "Put Your Records On" from her 2006 debut, but it's a richer, more sophisticated album as a whole. It's more optimistic than 2010's "The Sea," which followed the sudden death of her first husband, and it continues that album's blend of acoustic soul ballads and more extroverted R&B tracks.

Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album.
Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album. (Courtesy photo)

Rae's warm voice doesn't speak in whispers, but it's especially inviting when restrained. The slinky "Do You Ever Think of Me?" and the stately "Hey, I Won't Break Your Heart" luxuriate in the spaces between the notes. "Green Aphrodisiac" begins by echoing Aretha Franklin's "Daydreaming" (a song Rae has covered) before kicking it up a notch with layers of cooing backing vocals (in part courtesy of Esperanza Spalding). She's a bit less persuasive when songs such as "Horse Print Dress" and "Tell Me" build on programmed rhythms and loops or when "Do You Ever Think of Me?" strives to become an anthem. As the close-mic clarity of the closing lullaby, "Night," demonstrates, Rae's voice doesn't need any distractions.


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— Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Gregory Porter

"Take Me to the Alley"

You've likely heard Gregory Porter's voice and never known it — he sings the hook on Disclosure's lead single, "Holding On," from the Brit duo's sophomore smash, "Caracal." The co-written hit has been remixed and spun everywhere from Voyeur to the beaches of Ibiza, which makes his jazzier, slowed-down and hi-hat-brushed version here all the more delicious.

Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album.
Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album. (Courtesy photo)

"Take Me to the Alley" is a beautiful, soulful and sophisticated pop-jazz record that culls the 44-year-old baritone's homey influences into one hell of a sunny Sunday listen. He's not breaking the mold, but he's also not doing standards and covers, like many other modern jazz vocalists are wont to do. This batch reflects his gospel and soul roots, and a couple of tracks — "Don't Lose Your Steam" and "Day Dream" — are inspired by his son, Demyan. Porter earned a Grammy in 2014 for best jazz vocal album (for "Liquid Spirit"), and it's no surprise. His rich singing is beautifully controlled, yet wholly organic.

Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album.
Corinne Bailey Rae is back with a new album. (Courtesy photo)
This album is produced with co-conspirator Kamau Kenyatta, and Porter is backed by extremely capable players, like pianist Chip Crawford, drummer Emanuel Harrold, trumpeter Keyon Harrold, bassist Aaron James, and an angelic backup vocalist, Alicia Olatuja. A handful of tracks start to feel indulgently slow and drowsy. "Fan the Flames" dips into be-bop territory, and "French African Queen" flares up with Fela Kuti flavors. Channeling greats such as Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, and Ray Charles, Porter has collected a timeless bunch of tunes.

— Bill Chenevert, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Jean-Michel Jarre

"Electronica Vol 2: The Heart of Noise"

If 2015's "Vol. 1" reintroduced French electronic musicmaker Jean-Michel Jarre into pop after eight years away, "The Heart of Noise" keeps the acquaintance current. Jarre — a longtime master of crepuscular ambience, sequenced sound, and electro-pop — gathers sympathetic sons and daughters with mixed results. But even at its most "meh" (a shamefully tepid pairing with psychedelic groove-ministers Primal Scream; a sleep-inducing trance co-starring Edward Snowden yakking about privacy), "Noise" is to be treasured.

Beyond living up to the expectations of its pairings — "Here for You" with Gary Numan is romantic and robotic; "Brick England" with Pet Shop Boys is pithy, with Bond-theme twists - "Noise" revels in all things synthetic. "Switch on Leon" with the Orb is an eerie, hysterical history-lesson collage sampling Léon Theremin in word and instrumentation. "Why This, Why That and Why?" finds Jarre and the boys of Yello giddily at play. "What You Want" with Peaches and "Swipe to the Right" with Cyndi Lauper have their sharp, shrill edges rounded, not a bad thing. Alone, on several tracks, Jarre creates stirring atmospheres with dense, tight rhythms.

— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer