Love and loss are the guiding themes of The Sea (Virgin), Corinne Bailey Rae's follow-up to her 2006 self-titled debut (which featured the buoyant single "Put Your Records On"). "The new one is kind of a heavy, emotional record," says the English singer-guitarist, whose husband, Jason Rae, died of a drug overdose in March 2008. "It's richer and more layered than my first album—lots of guitars, strings, French horns, glockenspiel, piano—and my lyrics are more revealing. I wanted to get people moving and get my feelings across." Rae, whose listening device of choice is a CD Walkman, told O about a few of the discs rattling around in her purse.
Q-Tip, Kamaal the Abstract (Battery, 2009) "This is experimental hip-hop that's cool, sexy, a bit Rolling Stones–like. The saxophonist Kenny Garrett plays on 'Abstractionisms,' and I like the notion of a jazz guy and a hip-hop impresario getting together to make a song."
TV on the Radio, Dear Science (Interscope, 2008) "They don't fit any box or stereotype: They're brainy black bohemians making intellectual music. The multilayered production, using both acoustic and electric instruments—that's the way forward, I think. 'Stork and Owl' has amazing lyrics, like a strange tone poem; 'Family Tree' is beautiful and foreboding."
Welcome to the Welcome Wagon (Asthmatic Kitty, 2008) "The musician Sufjan Stevens recorded a pastor and his wife making churchy music, with covers of the Velvet Underground and the Smiths thrown in. It's a mix of country and folk, with horns, orchestration, choral parts—gorgeous."
Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs & Englishmen (A&M, 1970) "He's an incredible singer, and he brings such energy and chaos to other people's songs. He's passionate—sweaty and raw. When I was recording The Sea , I wanted a sense of that.