Rachel Ann Morris took the stage name Rae Morris, a strange choice given that she shares her handle with a well-known Australian makeup artist. She was born in the seaside resort town of Blackpool, also the birthplace of Graham Nash, Chris Lowe, Maddy Prior, and Robert Smith, as well as where Jethro Tull was formed.
Morris signed with Atlantic Records while she was still a teenager, and placed the song ‘Don’t Go’ in the TV series Skins. Morris’ 2015 debut album is named Unguarded, a good summation of her genuinely warm, sincere, and charming music. She also has a penchant for wearing tracksuits.
Morris names groundbreaking and idiosyncratic female artists like Bjork, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, and Joanna Newsom as influences. Her first album, however, was polite pop/rock, based around her piano playing. Morris is growing into her own identity – her second record was a major step forward, while a third is due shortly.
Rae Morris Album Reviews
In her early career, Morris was mentored by an older singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Morris was also in a two-year relationship with Francis, and Unguarded is largely written about the relationship. Morris told The Independent that Unguarded was “about going through that, exploring that sexuality and those feelings for the first time. Then coming out the other side of that as well, so that’s the album”. Unguarded was produced in Los Angeles with producer Ariel Rechtshaid. Rechtshaid has been involved in a lot of great albums in the 21st century, but Unguarded isn’t one of them, with Morris still finding her identity as an artist and delivering a safe record of polite songs.
Unguarded is largely built around Morris as a female singer-songwriter on the piano. It was successful, reaching #9 on the UK charts and spawning seven singles. My favourite song from the record wasn’t one of these seven singles – ‘Morne Fortune’ shares its name with a hill in Saint Lucia, but it’s built around a lovely piano riff. Kate Bush is an easy reference point for Morris, but the galloping beat of ‘Under The Shadows’ is uncomfortably reminiscent of ‘Running Up That Hill’. Fryars, whom Morris is now married to, duets with her on ‘Cold’. Morris is generally better on the slow ballads like the title track and ‘Don’t Go’.
Unguarded is an enjoyable yet unexceptional debut album, but Morris has only become more interesting.
Someone Out There
On her sophomore album, Morris worked with the same production team, although Fryars stepped up as her main collaborator. But it’s a completely different record – Morris describes the record as “I have two songs at the piano and the rest is just full-on Britney mic.” As well as the change in sound, there’s a change in attitude – Someone Out There is more experimental and sensual, making for a more interesting record than its predecessor. Morris fell in love with Fryars during the making of Someone Out There, and it’s very much a joyful record, a celebration of love.
While the title track is perhaps too predictable in its sentiments, it’s offset by more interesting portrayals of love. ‘Dancing With Character’ was written about a friend’s grandfather losing his wife – it’s endlessly charming and gorgeous, showcasing Morris’ sincerity. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s pure lust on pop-oriented songs like ‘Do It’ and ‘Dip My Toe’. Morris shows her vocal skills on the stripped-back opener ‘Push Me To The Limit’, as well as on artier material like ‘Rose Garden’.
Someone Out There is a significant step forward for Morris, setting the stage for an interesting career.
Blackpool’s Rae Morris third album is also her third reinvention. On her first album, she was a piano-based singer-songwriter, on her second she was a pop artist, and on Rachel@Fairyland she’s in fantastical territory, surrounding her songs with strings that recall an earlier era. In the wake of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ reentering the charts, it’s probably a good time to release an eccentric English art-pop record, although Rachel@Fairyland is decidedly esoteric. Morris told The Guardian that “I want to be a national treasure, but the things I like are quite weird”. Morris’ vocals are terrific, handling the sophisticated and eccentric songs with aplomb, and her personality is sweet and guileless.
She’s almost unbearably sweet on ‘A Table For Two’, a song of devotion beyond death – “So if you’re down on Earth/And I’m up in the skies/I’d hope that you might choke and die/So I could stare forever right into your eyes.” Morris and her producer/husband Fryars dialogue sweetly on ‘Go Dancing’. The heart of the record is string-infused art-pop like ‘Running Shoes’ and ‘The Carrot’ – the latter approaches Broadway territory. The major stylistic detour is ‘Low Brow’, Morris lustily recalling a lesbian relationship over a more modern beat. The woodwind and harp arrangements from The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan.
It’s easy to cheer for Morris – her voice is lovely and her songs are charming – Rachel@Fairyland opens up some fascinating new territory for her.
Best Rae Morris Songs
Dancing With Character
Push Me To The Limit
Atletico (The Only One)
Wait For the Rain
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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