STYLE: Rock RATING OUR PRODUCT CODE: 181726-31095 LABEL: Thirty Tigers FORMAT: CD Album
Reviewed by Tony Cummings
Corinne's fourth album is a long, long way from the Leeds-based worship collective Revive that kicked off her recording career in 1998. But then it is also light years from her summery pop R&B smash "Put Your Records On" which went on to be a fixture of easy listening radio playlists. The touchstone for this wildly ambitious album was a visit the singer/songwriter made in 2017 to the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago. There she encountered the collection of photos, statues and artwork which constitute the "Negrobilia" which portray the African American's battle against the daily indignity and thoughtless racism which continue to be the experience of people of colour. One photo in particular, a 1954 snapshot of Audrey Smaltz, a 17-year-old pageant winner posing with a grin on the back of a fire truck sparked Rae's imagination and the song "New York Transit Queen" was the result. The Arts Bank inspired other songs. The harrowing "Erasure" has Corinne howling the lines "They tried to eviscerate you/Hide behind the curtain/Make you forget your name" over raw, barbed wire guitar lines. And it's not only snarling grunge which makes an entrance on "Afro Queen". Elsewhere there are fragments of Alice Coltrane-style jazz, spiky violin flourishes and avant-garde Afro experimentation. Attention grabbing is the ballad "Peach Velvet Sky", inspired by a 1861 book by Harriet Jacobs. The song depicts Jacobs hiding in an attic near the plantation from where she escaped, where she would watch her still-enslaved children in secret from a hole in the wall of her hiding place. Followers of the radio-friendly Corinne Bailey Rae will find the album's lurches from melodic warmth to blistering noise rock too uncomfortable while those suspicious of the liberal media's predictable heralding of anything avant-garde will probably give 'Black Rainbows' a miss. But those wondering about the spiritual state of this eminently gifted lady will view its closing song with its incantation "Before the throne of the invisible God/Before the throne/His train filled the temple/A burning coal to my lips" with some interest. One can't help but ponder on the power of the prophet to sing truth.
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