Before I get hate mail for critiquing a song released more than a year ago, please allow me to protest: I was so busy writing fiction and posting on my then-new blogs, and engaging in non-fiction in the form of job hunting, that I didn’t have the time to listen to radio stations and catch up on YouTube views and surf the various music vid channels on cable. But there’s a reason that I’ve climbed from under a novella-in-progress and interrupted my reading of a clever mystery novel to write about a singular song. Are you in suspense yet?

For the past few months — through grief over a pet’s demise and major family ties, sublime joy over several personal matters, and sheer fascination over rediscovering my natural hair — I haven’t been able to shake an obsession. Whether cooking up red rice, chilling out after a day’s work, writing, reading or dreaming, I’ve had Corinne Bailey Rae‘s “Closer” on the brain. Yeah, I want it. I want it.

Let me lie here on the, the-rapist’s, couch and tell you all about it. This musical obsession. ‘Twas the night that I happened upon the public-television program “Live from the Artists Den,” and swaying behind a slim mic and in front of a tight band was the petite, expressive song stylist torching her way through the smoldering jam “Closer.” I was nowhere near NYC’s Hiro Ballroom, but it felt as if immortal songbird Minnie Riperton was permeating the space.

No surprise. Exaltation! It’s logical that, in “Closer,” a Brit of color gets nearer to Riperton’s musical essence and sassified funk than the exhaustive list of mostly Black (quantitatively, not genealogically) female singers who just try to dazzle the audience with wispy attempts at the whistle register. Black British singers innovated the music industry with neo-soul, and it took awhile for many of us across the pond to catch onto the substantive subgenre.

[That Corinne Bailey Rae was born in the same year that Minnie Riperton Rudolph made her transition — 1979 — may not matter to many or any of you dear readers of the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog, but I dig that mystical “ish.”]


Regarding the aforementioned whistle register — don’t get me wrong, or else I’ll work some Gullah roots on your cynical asses.  (I’m jesting.)  I’ve nothing against the numerous covers of Riperton classics, among them “Lovin’ You” (Shanice Wilson) and “Inside My Love” (Chanté Moore and Trina Broussard).   However, I get incensed over careless and unfair comparisons to Riperton whenever a songstress possesses the technical ability to reach a note that can summon a pack of canines in a blizzard while sirens from a fleet of police vehicles blare during a perilous car chase.

Mariah Carey, at the start of her recording career, used to annoy me to no end whenever she’d toy around with those high octaves. For example, I love “All I Want for Christmas Is You” until she gets frivolous in the whistle register. The only thing more aggravating than that song’s finale is the video; when I first viewed it, I wished Tommy Mottolaaaa lived down the rooooad.

Carey would raise my ire when, during a live concert, she would ruin a wonderful song, such as her horrendous remake of Brenda K. Starr’s sparkling, pitch-perfect ballad “I Still Believe,” by transforming into a screaming Mimi. I felt as sick as Puccini’s consumptive romantic as I watched Mariah do Scary Carey complete with a conceited smile as if to say, “Look, ma. I hit that high note!”

In contrast, Corinne Bailey Rae’s performances are down-to-earth no matter where her purely angelic voice travels within its limited range. There’s a difference between showing off one’s vocal range and arriving at an inspired place. Listen to Carey at the finale of the gospel-R&B ballad “Fly Like a Bird” — her notes don’t sound contrived but transcendent. It’s as if her spirit is possessed by the Holy Ghost and has leaped from her bod to kiss the galaxies. In “Closer,” Rae doesn’t rush to the next vocal phrase as if there’s a race to reach a peak of a different kind; she rides the groove.

And who determined during the 1990s that an arrival at an inspired place must be in or near the whistle register and at mountain-moving decibels? Sometimes Beyoncé needs to put a muzzle on it. “Halo” starts off celestial and gradually turns hellish.

Rae pulls in the listener, almost seeming to outflirt those naughty lead-guitar licks and brazen synthclavier strokes. “I want it / I want it / Closer,” she coos ever more confident that she’ll achieve her goal, which actually is for the benefit of both lovers. Her deceptively innocent voice hugs each lyric, and she hangs in there with her bandmates, in the pocket, so faithfully that she breathes sultrily to get to the next phrase.

Riperton's last album, Minnie (1979)

Riperton’s last album, Minnie (1979) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Closer” finds Rae channeling Minnie Riperton as she basks in love, lust and truth. Rae seems to whine her entreaties, but in sweet, sexy ways that can propel the listener to wine his or her body. She even ad-libs à la Riperton: “Ay-y-ayyy.” This retro-soul ballad’s lyrics lay bare the flesh of sexual and emotional intimacy. She sings: “Oooohhhh / Your love is so good / That I want to show you … / Your love is so good / So good.” With each lyric that drips like honey, Rae exposes a layer of adult vulnerability and confronts her lover to encourage him to surrender or else lose the relationship.

A meticulous listen to “Closer,” preferably not while an SO is awaiting you in the boudoir, may conjure up a 1970s love mix: Think of Minnie Riperton’s intoxicating turn in “Young, Willing and Able” (from Riperton’s last album for Epic Records:  Stay in Love) and the slow burn of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love” (from the eponymously titled 1978 album on the TK Records label).   “Closer” is like a striptease for an audience of one. Sassy meets brassy. Next stop: the bedroom. As Rae and backup vocalists sing, “I want it / I want it,” the bass dips and the drum kit’s hi-hat tips in seductive music designed for the grind.

Returning to the music scene after unimaginable loss, chanteuse-musician Corinne Bailey Rae evokes in “Closer” such lush sensuality that it’s as if Minnie Riperton passed the torch to her from the soul pantheon.

© 2011 Chantale Rêve

All Rights Reserved

Photo Caption (top photo):  Corinne Bailey Rae at Divan du Monde in Paris, France (January 2009)

Photo Source:  Wikipedia

Photos of Minnie Riperton’s album cover for Minnie (Capitol Records) and The Best of Minnie Riperton (Capitol Records):  Though these images are subject to copyright, their use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because the images are used as the primary means of visual identification of the article’s topic.

Source for all photos:  Wikipedia