This is Madeleine Peyroux’s fifth studio album. When she made her recording debut in 1996, she found herself being compared to Billie Holiday. While her voice does sound, at times, like Lady Day, the comparison is vastly unfair to both artists. Peyroux was born in Athens, Georgia, but spent a good portion of her childhood moving around, finally landing in Paris at age 13. Her parents exposed her to plenty of music, especially older jazz and blues. Madeleine’s first few albums were more jazz oriented, but her last one, 2009’s Bare Bones, and this one find her moving away from straight jazz to a more rootsy sound adding elements of swing, gospel, blues and folk. She and producer Craig Street (Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson) have assembled a fine band including guitarist Marc Ribot, Me’Shell Ndegeocello on bass and Charley Drayton on drums.
Peyroux’s previous album was the first to feature all original material. This time around she mixes it up a little bit, starting things with a cover of The Beatles’ Martha, My Dear. It’s a slow, reflective version of the tune, with a banjo plucking away behind Madeleine’s voice. Other covers include a unique take on Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain featuring what sounds like a droning accordion and the dark rumble of strings and guitars. Less satisfying is her take on Bob Dylan’s I Threw It All Away. It’s a rather non-descript reading of a tune with plenty of emotional pull.
Of the Peyroux originals, the best is The Kind You Can’t Afford, co-written with former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman…a guy not known for his songwriting. It’s a funky, tune featuring Ribot on a swampy-sounding guitar that sounds like a classic Tony Joe White track. Madeleine’s vocal is suitably sultry. There’s more fine twangy guitar on Fickle Dave, while Standing On The Rooftop features a throbbing, repetitive guitar figure and an ominous vibe. John Kirby’s piano playing highlights The Party Ought To Be Coming Soon and a later highlight is the bouncy Don’t Pick A Fight With A Poet.
While there is plenty to like about this new album, with 15 tracks included, there is also plenty that doesn’t really stand out. Along with I Threw It All Away, Lay Your Sleepy Head, My Love (adapted from a W.H. Auden poem) is rambling and, well, boring and there are three or four other tunes that, while they sound OK, really don’t connect with the listener.
Perhaps a bit of self-editing was in order. So, it’s a mixed bag from Ms. Peyroux. Fans will find plenty to admire, but chances are she won’t be attracting many new listeners with this one.
Click here to listen to The Kind You Can’t Afford from Standing On The Rooftop: