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Jazz and Pop Get Languid and Wistful

Corinne Bailey Rae fuses contemporary pop, jazz vocal stylings and FDR-era horn loops.
Corinne Bailey Rae fuses contemporary pop, jazz vocal stylings and FDR-era horn loops.

It's a generalization, but there's truth to it: If Christina Aguilera sounds like a latter-day Etta James for people who buy their albums at the mall, Corinne Bailey Rae sounds like a latter-day Billie Holiday for people who buy their albums at Starbucks. But that's not such a bad thing.

The increasingly popular synthesis of contemporary pop, jazz vocal stylings and FDR-era horn loops tends to sound hypnotic even when done badly, which it usually isn't. British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae is one of the subgenre's most relaxed practitioners, relying more on her rainy-Sunday voice than on vintage samples to evoke a mood. Her self-titled debut suggests both Alicia Keys (with the seasoned mingling of ballads and grooves) and Macy Gray (with the unsettling kewpie-doll vocals), and its first single, "Put Your Records On," is an agreeable pop song destined to alienate no one.

But "Like A Star" is a real find: Languid and wistful, mild in a weirdly appealing way, it's a worshipful ode to a quarrelsome lover that's meandering, tentative and hook-free. It shouldn't sound nearly as good as it does, but Rae sells the song as if her life depended on it, uncovering new layers of longing and lust that probably weren't on the page to begin with. As a songwriter, Rae isn't fully developed, but as a rehabilitator of creaky jazz ballads, she's already first-rate.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Allison L. Stewart
Allison Stewart is a writer living in New York. It's entirely possible to see her work in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, No Depression, Rolling Stone or any number of other places. Or to miss it entirely, which is just as likely.