Rae Morris — Unguarded
♦ A spectacular début album from one of 2015’s ones to watch.
Birth name: Rachel Anne Morris
Born: 2 September 1993
Location: Blackpool, Lancashire
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Instruments: Vocals, piano
Album release: January 26, 2015
Record Label: Atlantic
01 Skin 3:48
02 Under the Shadows 3:50
03 Closer 3:50
04 For You 3:51
05 Love Again 3:55
06 Don't Go 3:33
07 Unguarded 3:55
08 Cold 3:58
09 Do You Even Know? 3:41
10 Morne Fortune 3:59
11 This Time 3:51
12 Not Knowing 4:45
℗ 2014 Atlantic Records UK Ltd., A Warner Music Group Company
Josh Nicol, Score: *****
♦ I couldn’t mention Rae Morris without mentioning the career she has built for herself over the past few years. Blossoming out of a healthy — but certainly not established — music scene in Blackpool and Preston, the singer–songwriter has come a long way from performing solo shows for free in her local park café, or from playing on Wednesday nights at the open–mic at Preston’s Mad Ferret, or from being played on the BBC Radio Lancashire Introducing show for the first time.
♦ Despite the relative gargantuan heights of supporting and recording with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, George Ezra and Tom Odell, there’s still something of her history in this record — the beautiful ‘Do You Even Know’ was written in her shed back in Blackpool. The record as a whole sounds incredibly mature and complex for a début album, in fact it’s quite easy to forget that it is a début, perhaps this is due to the timing of the release, eventually deciding to emerge after six strong EPs.
♦ With the fear of using too much ridiculous hyperbole, the vulnerability of this record is a step above any other contemporary pop musician at the moment. It has moments of strong influence from the singer–songwriter greats of the past, namely Kate Bush and — more recently — Joanna Newsom; Even ‘For You’ and ‘Morne Fortune’ have quite a subtle vocal homage to Bush’s ‘Wow’. Morris has mastered a gorgeous vocal technique, using it more as an extra layer to her music rather than just a leading force.
♦ Over the course of her recording career so far, Rae Morris has not only developed her style as a songwriter, but has also found a production value that sits well alongside the brilliance of her lyrics, taking advantage of tempo and increasing and decreasing it when the record sees fit. In a similar fashion to her musical peers, Bombay Bicycle Club, Morris arguably manages to create a pretty unexpected, solid and palatable alternative dance record in its own right, bridging a number of genres along the way.
♦ Those who know Morris from her early gigs will no doubt feel emotional listening to Unguarded. Tracks like ‘Don’t Go‘ feel like they’re from a time long forgotten — a time when she simply had that raw ability that everyone could see. Rae’s music has and always will be about her. There is no accidental moment on this album and everything is meticulously placed, showing a maturity in every way that everyone has always said she possesses.
♦ Perhaps no one predicted her to be this successful, but this record justifies the hype that has escalated over the past three or four years. Unguarded does what it says on the tin. It is a stripped down expression of Morris’ vulnerability done to its highest standard. It really is a spectacular début record. :: http://www.gigslutz.co.uk/
By LUKE BEARDSWORTH, January 23rd, 2015; Score: 8
♦ Rae Morris fans have had to be patient in awaiting this debut album. Many were hooked as soon as they heard 'Don’t Go' all the way back in March 2012 — only three years later do we finally have a full length release to listen to. Still, it’s great that her label have allowed her that time to develop and hone her sound and the age of 21, she can afford to patient with her output.
♦ Certainly she's one of the more interesting artists on the BBC Sound of 2015 list, and though beneath it all there are some very basic pop sensibilities, there’s generally enough quirks to mean that it doesn’t wear thin. Her voice does recall Ellie Goulding in terms of delivery but where Goulding relies upon her voice to carry her, Rae takes it in her stride and everything comes across very naturally and organic.
♦ There is only really one misstep on Unguarded. ‘Cold feat. Fryars’ is a weakest collaboration that sticks out a little jarringly on a record that is otherwise expertly paced. The rest though is a perfect example of what a pop album should be. Many of the tracks will already be familiar (as is inevitable on a debut) but ‘Skin’, ‘Under the Shadows’ and ‘Closer’ are as strong an opening trio as she could hope for. The first of the three is wonderfully haunting and highlights that when the vibe is vulnerable rather than aiming for uplifting is when Rae is at her best. All three of these tracks feel more produced than the early piano–led ballads so 'For You' is welcome when it arrives.
♦ ‘Unguarded’ in the middle of the album highlights this. It has a huge chorus that works spectacularly well in the live environment. It’s the sort of track that provokes goosebumps from even the most unsuspecting of listeners. Before this ‘Don’t Go’ reappears in a new form but is mostly as bare and beautiful as it ever was. The track remains her best to date although it also reminds us that one of the best early songs, ‘Grow’, has been left off the album. I won’t dwell too much on that decision but it would have been great to have it along for the ride.
♦ ‘Do You Even Know?’ soon follows as one of the more creative and ambitious attempts. It’s incredibly danceable and shows off a completely different side to Rae. This and earlier track ‘Love Again’ show that she has far more mileage than vulnerable piano ballads. It would only take a little work to turn both into genuine dancefloor tunes although it’s a relief that they didn’t take this direction to assault the charts. ‘This Time’ is the highlight of the closing section of the album. It’s the sound of that vulnerability that’s captured on the likes of ‘Don’t Go’ being overcome. As a result, it leaves me very excited as to where Rae Morris could go on a second album.
♦ Some of the tracks are a little overproduced. The opening trio is a little guilty of that, as is 'Unguarded' itself, but it never chokes the songs. You just feel Rae’s voice should be allowed more space to shine on occasion. It’s a tough argument though because then another reviewer might argue she were relying on that voice too much. Only on 'Cold' does the production seriously hamper the end product.
♦ Mostly though, the wait for Unguarded has been worth it. Rae Morris has the potential to be the most loved songwriter in the country and her ascent is one that should be cherished by lovers of innovation and creativity in pop music. Let’s hope the wait isn’t as long this time around. :: http://drownedinsound.com/
Andy Peterson | 14 Jan 2015 | Score: 4/5
♦ Perhaps one of the most surprising features of 2014 musically was a resurgence in domestic artists amongst the UK's best sellers, a charge led by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith which saw the once dominant Americans left outside the top 10 for the first time in years.
♦ There were many reasons for this some, if not all, appearing to be in some way related to Taylor Swift — but the main takeaway from it seems that our love affair with the singer songwriter remains unquenched. Also notable was the re–emergence of Kate Bush for a lengthy string of well, challenging live shows, the reclusive doyen reconnecting with press and public alike to remind us that despite her weaknesses for over–elaboration, she remains one of the 20th century's most iconic Bohemians.
♦ Both of these facts will surely hold some fascination for Rae Morris, a 22–year–old from the North West who's a big fan of Bush and, with her début album 'Unguarded', is about to enter into a log–jammed solo market with a work of distinction. Nurtured by her major label over the last three years in a way that suggests they feel they have a potential talent not to be rushed, it feels like a body of work conceived in a New York loft rather than the faded glamour of Blackpool, but whatever Morris has been channelling as a muse, the results seem set to catapult her into the public's conscience.
Having been playing keyboards and piano since before she was at school, it's no surprise that she makes the instrument http://www.contactmusic.com/album-review/rae-morris-unguarded one she feels retains its sense of romance in the digital age http://www.contactmusic.com/album-review/rae-morris-unguarded the focal point of many of 'Unguarded''s songs. It's a decision that, along with an occasional tendency for sparseness in her arrangements as showcased on opener 'Skin', leaves an impression with the listener of purity, a lack of emotional clutter. Showing uncommon poise, her repertoire bears all the hallmarks of being allowed to grow organically away from the pressure of hit making, hence ‘Under The Shadows’ flits between a rumbling, epic drum crescendo and grown–up pop body, impressively a dead ringer for ‘Tango In The Night’ era Fleetwood Mac.
♦ Praise indeed, but there's also a contemporary stripe to 'Unguarded' as well; the radio friendly R&B overtow of ‘Closer’ holding the keys, it would seem, to many doors. This olive branch to the mainstream doesn’t end there: there’s even a spunky, angst laden prequel to Gotye’s ‘Somebody I Used To Know’ on ‘Cold’, a duet with Fryars that feels like a remix away from transporting both of them to half a gazillion YouTube hits.
For all this might be making the suits excited, Morris allows herself more than enough leash from orthodoxy. The title track, for example, de–layers both the words and any sense of confusion, a love song buoyed by a sense of genuine warmth and harmony, whilst just as eloquently showcasing her fragility. 'Don't Go' is as welcoming. If there are minor quibbles, the 12 song span feels a little overdone, and the singer hasn't quite learned how to craft words in a truly Everyman syntax, but this is almost certainly us being awkward. 'Unguarded' is the first album of 2015 that underlines the belief that our indigenous talent should rule the roost again, whilst at the same time announces that a major new talent has also arrived. Happy New Year!
Interview, By Jenny Simpson on September 23, 2014