By Jeff Wisser
Friday, March 22, 2013
Throughout her career, Madeleine Peyroux has blended jazz, country, blues, pop and even folk. On her new album, “The Blue Room,” she seriously synthesizes these and other disparate sounds.
Peyroux was born in Georgia and bred in SoCal, Paris and Brooklyn, and her music has always reflected these diverse environments. The playful, smoky-jazz-club vibe she brings to her songs contains echoes of the deep South, the urban North and even France.
Peyroux’s musical accomplice is producer Larry Klein, the estimable bassist noted for his work with ex-wife Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and the late Warren Zevon. For this project, Klein approached Peyroux with the idea of reimagining “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” Ray Charles’s legendary 1962 meeting of R&B, blues, jazz and country.
For “The Blue Room,” though, singer and producer didn’t just parrot Charles; they extended the concept. There are some “Modern Sounds” staples here, most notably a bluesy turn on “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a steamy and mournful “You Don’t Know Me” and a grinding take on “Bye Bye Love.” But Peyroux and Klein also seamlessly included Randy Newman’s “Guilty” and Zevon’s “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” as well as a jaunty cover of Buddy Holly’s “Changing All Those Changes.”
The album’s sole lowlight is a dirge-like take on John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.” Otherwise, “The Blue Room” crackles with energy and musical tension, and stands as Peyroux’s most accomplished, mature work to date.
Like her role models Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee and Emmylou Harris, Madeleine Peyroux allows vowels to drop from her mouth like ripened pieces of fruit: soft, round and bruised. On her first four solo albums, she mostly applied this sensual singing to material first recorded by the likes of Patsy Cline and Nat King Cole. It took her a while to figure out how to write music as seductive as her voice. She did, though, and her 11 originals sparkle on her fifth album, "Bare Bones."
She had top-drawer help. Larry Klein, Joni Mitchell's former producer and husband, is Peyroux's producer and co-wrote seven of the songs. There's a Steely Dan-ish wit to the title track ("The truth itself is nothing but a gamble/It might or might not set you free"), but Peyroux tosses off the lines with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders.
She applies the same light touch to every song. Her delivery may seem easygoing, but it's never lazy. Beneath the plump fleshiness of these songs, however, is a theme as hard and haunting as the title phrase. On "You Can't Do Me," she finds herself crawling the seas on her bony knees, while on "Our Lady of Pigalle," she's climbing cathedrals with her stony feet.
-- Geoffrey Himes, Weekend (June 2009)