Rating: * * * *
Verdict: Beauty shines through pain
Four years on, Corinne Bailey Rae is almost unrecognisable as the cheerful voice behind 2006's sunny pop song Put Your Records On.
Her second album The Sea channels the British soulstress' paralysing grief following her husband's sudden death from an overdose in March 2008.
Opening with the stirring Are You Here, Bailey Rae takes her music on on a complex and mature journey from empty despair to acceptance. There's no mournful wailing, just layers of honest emotion, and the underlying sense of her strength. At the prompt of the concert piano Bailey Ray vamps up for the funky Feels Like The First Time, and all remnants of the cute, bike-riding girl with flowers in her hair recede in the the dark, almost rock track The Blackest Lily.
Husky soul returns for Love's On It's Way and her voice is whisper-soft in the delicate I Would Like To Call It Beauty, where she sings "so young for death, we walk in shoes too big". Meanwhile Paris Nights/New York Mornings is a return to finger-clicking, folk-pop. In this Bailey Rae is cute and delightful.
Rising and crashing with her emotion, the album ends on the harp strum of its title song, her final goodbye to her love, saxophonist Jason Rae.
Bailey Rae's second album may be less cheerful, but its clever blend of everything from funk to rock and honest lyrics moves her far beyond the cafe-soul of her highly acclaimed self-titled debut.