“The only thing that matters is the song,” says singer-songwriter Madeleine Peyroux. That conviction along with a ‘one of a kind’ voice, has carried the Jazz artist from busking on the streets of Paris, all the way to mainstream recognition.
Through intensely distinctive renditions of old classics and modern tunes by the likes of Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, Peyroux has proved to be an uncannily insightful ‘interpreter’ with her consistently impeccable choice of material.
Peyroux’s new album, The Blue Room, sees the genre-blending singer reworking some landmark musical gems, in a repeat collaboration with longtime Peyroux producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Walter Becker, Tracy Chapman, Herbie Hancock)
The result is a sophisticated album that rather than just ‘crossing over’, seamlessly fuses musical styles together to create an entirely new sound.
The Blue Room started life as Klein’s re-examination of Ray Charles’s classic, Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, but soon moved away from being strictly an homage to that album. “Madeleine and I decided to branch out to other songs we love,” explains Klein, so alongside tunes from the original ABC Paramount project such as “Bye Bye Love,” “Born To Lose,” “You Don’t Know Me” and the anthemic “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” Warren Zevon’s “Desperadoes Under The Eaves” and John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind.”
“Ray’s ‘cultural landmark’ album has always been a part of me,” says Larry Klein, “…the project naturally came to mind with Madeleine as a part of it.”
“Much like Charles who in 1962 jelled R & B, Gospel, Country and Jazz, Madeleine is at a nexus of styles, blending Jazz, Blues, Country and Pop’. The ‘cheerful on the surface’ songs have a ‘dark undercurrent’ which Klein ‘knew that Madeleine could naturally relate to.”
For The Blue Room Larry Klein has again called upon the talents of award-winning engineer/mixer Helik Hadar as well as stellar musicians Dean Parks, Larry Goldings, Jay Bellerose and David Piltch. To this ensemble however, the celebrated producer has added an inspired orchestral element in the shape of Vince Mendoza’s engaging string arrangements (Joni Mitchell, Robbie Williams, Björk and Elvis Costello).
Mendoza’s masterful string orchestrations perfectly complement Madeleine’s quest for open musical exploration. The sometimes eerie, often sparse arrangements prove the perfect canvas for Peyroux’s musical palette and seem to effortlessly blend with her voice.
With the sixth track on the new album, Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On The Wire,” Peyroux returns to the iconic poet’s work. She revisits the tempting power of Careless Love’s “Dance Me To The End of Love”, as Mendoza’s strings thoroughly intensify the experience.
With the sensitive accompaniment of Dean Parks’ guitars, Jay Bellerose’s atmospheric drumming, David Piltch’s bass and as in “Dance Me To the End of Love,” Larry Goldings deft piano, Peyroux sheds an enticing new light on the familiar classic. The Blue Room feels like a landmark in the artist’s free-spirited musical journey which started in Paris, when ‘drawn to the music of the streets’, 15- year-old Peyroux left school to join a touring blues and jazz band.
“Someone gave me early Columbia recordings with Billie Holiday and instructed me to learn the songs.” Peyroux grasped not just the melody changes, choice of tone and phrasing but the power of the iconic artist’s presence. “It was by learning Billie’s mannerisms that I was learning to listen to my own,” she explains.
Years later, her talent was spotted at a New York club by Atlantic Records’ Yves Beauvais who signed her to the label and co-produced her 1996 debut album Dreamland. Peyroux’s husky voice enchanted punters and critics alike but it was the 2004 Careless Love that proved to be a milestone release for the artist, bringing mainstream recognition and marking the start of a four-album-long collaboration with producer Larry Klein.
It’s a long way from the streets of Paris to collaborating with some of the world’s finest musicians. Still, where others may be content basking in the glow of praising reviews, this charmingly humble musician bravely explores new grounds showing that like jazz itself she is willing to take new chances.