Corinne Bailey Rae: The Billboard Cover Story
Corinne Bailey Tierney Gearon

She pauses, and gives the idea some more thought. "Do I feel nervous about it? I don't know. I really like it and believe in it, and there might be some people who are really into it. It might not be on the same scale as the people who were into the first record...I don't know. We're just going to see what happens."

In mid-December, Rae released the video for "I'd Do It All Again," a stunning ballad that she wrote in January 2008 after an argument with her husband. "I felt it would be a really great way to start things off," Rae says, "because it starts out with me just playing the guitar and singing, and as it goes on, it really develops and all the layers come out. It's a balance between the more acoustic sound of the first record and the bigger sound I tried to get on this one."

EMI's Thompson says that a second clip is in the works for the decidedly more lighthearted track "Paris Nights/New York Mornings," which the label will promote to different radio formats in the United States.

"The approach at radio is going to be multiformat," Thompson says. "We think her album is diverse enough that we can go to urban AC and smooth jazz and triple A. She also has great love at both BET and VH1. One may celebrate the first single, where the other might lean quite heavily on the second."

As it did with Rae's first album, Starbucks will carry copies of "The Sea" at its stores, which often provide a reliable sales boost for artists with similar profiles. Hulu has also signed on as a partner and will soon launch a channel dedicated to Rae. The channel will show music videos and behind-the-scenes clips as well as Rae's "Live From the Artists Den" public TV special, which she taped Dec. 7 during her showcase at Hiro Ballroom in New York.

Pre-orders of "The Sea" will be made available on iTunes Jan. 12, the same day the online music store exclusively releases "I'd Do It All Again" for download.

Finally, Rae should see large media impressions in the United States from her day-of-release performance on NBC's "Today" show, as well as upcoming features in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. (U.K. TV appearances were still being lined up at press time, though Rae debuted "I'd Do It All Again" with an acoustic performance on BBC 2's "Later With Jools Holland" in November.)

Once "The Sea" is released, though, the real work will begin for Rae. She's lining up tour dates in the States and Europe to begin in April and the trek will include some key festival appearances, like the newly revived Lilith Fair and Coachella. The singer is more than happy to put in the work, though.

"The fact that I have that sort of escape into music is an amazing thing that I have always loved," Rae says. "The way you can delve down into music and get lost in it -- that's the thing that I need. I need to have it."