O2 Academy 2, Oxford
8th February 2015
Blackpool native Rae Morris has a beautiful voice; reminiscent of Emiliana Torrini, Ellie Goulding and sometimes even Björk (especially on Skin) in tone, its apparent ethereal vulnerability and emotion belies its strength and confidence. Now 22, she signed to Atlantic at 18, and she’s been crafting her life experiences into her debut album, Unguarded, since then.
She has been widely compared to Kate Bush, given her effortlessly versatile voice and piano playing and the Running Up That Hill-like heartbeat throughout Under the Shadows, though I get more of a Fleetwood Mac vibe from it. In general, she’s more soulful; Do You Even Know? reminds me bit of Lena Fiagbe, and there are shades of Sade in Closer.
Rae recorded most of her album with the American producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has recently worked with HAIM, Charli XCX, Vampire Weekend and Madonna. Even just on the basis of tonight, it sounds like he’s taken Rae’s voice–piano formula and invigorated it into something a lot more poppy, while retaining the smoothness and glassiness of her style – even when, in songs like Don’t Go, the instrumentation is sparse. Rae does however apparently credit Fryars – her support act tonight, and with whom she co-wrote and duets on the oddly autotuney Cold – for guiding her from being an acoustic piano singer-songwriter to her current, more electronic incarnation. She’s even written and recorded with Clean Bandit, though the unexpected dubsteppy drumming in her rendition of their collaboration, Up Again, jars a bit.
It’s a shame that the apparent concentration on instrumentation and production has taken the focus away from the interaction between Rae’s voice and her piano; she has enough songcrafting talent and imagination to be more like Tori Amos in this respect. However, her strongest songs are the faster, more anthemic ones like Love Again and Under the Shadows, and I end up wishing for more of these.