Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review: Madeleine Peyroux, Ronnie Scott’s, London

Madeleine Peyroux, Ronnie Scott’s, London, Monday April 29th

She made us laugh; she made us cry …  and she made us all sit up and hang on her every word. Madeleine Peyroux’s opening night at Ronnie Scott’s was a knock-out – a brilliant blend of the hybrid sounds of her new album, The Blue Room, and songs from her earlier records.

Standing self-consciously in the middle of a half-circle of musicians – a string quartet, a rhythm section plus guitarist Jon Herington – Peyroux looked, initially, a little overawed and nervous as she launched into the opening track from The Blue Room, Take These Chains. But the strange and seductive combination of her throaty, note-bending vocals and the ethereal sound of the strings arrangement was an instant winner – and she seemed to relax as the song went on; even going so far as to tell stories and crack jokes between numbers – and clearly having fun as she visited rock ‘n’ roll territory on Bye Bye Love.

It was certainly a far cry from the Peyroux many of us experienced in her earlier years, when she would stand apologetically in front of an audience and look distinctly sheepish as she sang – as if she might get found out at any minute.

Mind you, back then the voice was a lot less assured sounding. One thing that was particularly striking on Monday was how commanding a musical presence Peyroux can have; especially when she plumbs the depths of her vocal range as she did on a magnificent (and simply sung) You Don’t Know Me, a powerful and gutsy I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You –  and on Bird on the Wire, one of the songs which was much more affecting in a live performance than on the album.

On all of those stand-out numbers, Peyroux held the adoring capacity crowd in her sway as she gently swivelled on the spot, working the room, locking eyes with punters and wringing her hands in a Piaf-like manner. Her attention to lyrics, and the emotion she invested in them, had listeners hanging on her every word – especially on the glorious Guilty (which brought out the Bessie Smith in her), You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go and Desperados Under the Eaves, all poetic and all a joy to hear as they were channelled through the Peyroux prism…

There were the inevitable moments of un-easy listening – Dance Me to the End of Love (which I caught at the end of the first show of the evening) had a nightmarish quality thanks to Peyroux’s slightly tortured vocals, while Don’t Wait Too Long’s melody was almost distorted beyond recognition, leaving only the lyrics as clues to what the song was. But these uncomfortable, unsettling moments didn’t spoil the overall effect – of a night well worth remembering.

Madeleine Peyroux, Ronnie Scott’s – Monday April 29th, second show

Take These Chains

Don’t Wait Too Long

Bye Bye Love

You Don’t Know Me

Guilty

Changin’ All Those Changes

Half the Perfect World

La Javanaise

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

Bird on the Wire

I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You

Dance Me to the End of Love

I Hear Music

Desperados Under the Eaves

Instead

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CD Recommendations: April 2013

Scott Hamilton: Remembering Billie (Blue Duchess) Remembering Billie

Billie Holiday is a singer beloved by instrumentalists, and one whose distinctive repertoire has been celebrated by such wonderful, lyrical musicians as Ruby Braff, Chet Baker and Bobby Wellins. Now tenor saxophone giant Scott Hamilton offers his take on ten Holiday classics, in the company of his new, hard-swinging American trio/quartet. As ever, his big, soulful sound is a particular joy on the ballads, notably God Bless the Child and Good Morning Heartache, and it’s also a treat to hear Holiday’s 1930s small group hits getting the Hamilton stamp.

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: In the Spirit of Duke (Spartacus) 

EllingtonLast autumn’s Duke Ellington-themed tour by the SNJO was undoubtedly one of the best live Ellington experiences in Scotland, in living memory. This CD is a 16-track fusion of music from the five Scottish concerts and it not only captures the thrill of hearing a young band getting a kick out of the glorious Ellington repertoire, but it also showcases its world-class ensemble playing (especially that of the saxophone section), and such terrific soloists as Ruaraidh Pattison (alto sax), Martin Kershaw (clarinet), Ryan Quigley (trumpet), Tommy Smith (tenor saxophone) and the inimitable Brian Kellock (piano).

Sigurdur Flosason & Kjeld Lauritsen: Night Fall (Storyville Records) Night Fall

This CD is a wonderful introduction to the gorgeous, gentle sound and lyrical style of Icelandic alto saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason, and features a line-up of sax plus Hammond B3 organ, played by Kjeld Lauritsen); guitar, played by Jacob Fischer, and drums, played by Kristian Leith. Flosason excels throughout, particularly on ballads. The overall effect is of a series of laidback musical conversations, with the dialogue between sax and guitar especially pleasing. Indeed, the organ often gets in the way.

Heather Masse & Dick Hyman: Lock My Heart (Red House Records) Hyman cd

American piano virtuoso Dick Hyman (newly turned 86) has joined forces with the alto from the popular folk singing group The Wailin’ Jennies for this unsurprisingly classy duo album. Masse has a luscious, rich voice and refreshingly unfussy style, and serves up lovely interpretations of an eclectic selection of songs including two original numbers and two sublime Kurt Weill ballads. Only the title track, which closes the CD, disappoints since Masse morphs into what sounds like Betty Boop. Hyman remains as elegant, imaginative and dynamic as ever.

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Peyroux’s Country Roads

Madeleine-Peyroux-TheBlueRoom-2-Photo-RockySchenck-comMadeleine Peyroux has a lot to answer for – not least this jazz critic’s closet conversion to country ‘n’ western fan. The 39-year-old singer and guitarist, whose 2004 breakthrough album Careless Love won millions over thanks to her languid, sultry, Billie Holiday-like vocals and penchant for blurring musical genres, is back with a new album. And whereas previous albums have all hinted at a predilection for country ‘n’ western, this one – The Blue Room, which is released on Monday – positively yells about it. After all, the tracks include such country classics as I Can’t Stop Loving You and Take These Chains From My Heart.

Actually, it wasn’t a love of country ‘n’ western music per se that inspired this record; it was the love of the songs from one particular LP: Ray Charles’s landmark 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. That record is regarded by most experts as one of the most important LPs of the 20th Century, not just because it fused together different musical genres – rhythm ‘n’ blues, blues, soul, gospel and country music – but because it broke down racial barriers between “black” music and “white” music at a critical time in the American Civil Rights movement.

Peyroux, who now has notched up three more successful CDs since Careless Love topped the charts, admits to being initially taken aback by her producer Larry Klein’s suggestion of a tribute album. She says: “I immediately asked if he wouldn’t rather do this with a bunch of people and make it a bigger collaboration. I was worried about how well I could represent all the things you might want to say about that album, but I was over the moon about having the opportunity to speak on MY relationship with the music that Ray Charles made, and how that’s been a part of my life.”

As a native of Charles’s home state of Georgia, Peyroux had been aware of the legendary singer since her childhood when she grew up hearing an eclectic range of music in the family home. She admits that she wasn’t familiar with Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music or its sequel – but she knew the songs from numerous compilations, and she relished the chance to get her teeth into them. “I love the fact that this is a female voice singing songs that were written for men to sing – it makes a big difference for me to experience it from that perspective,” she says.

Over the course of the year’s researching, discussing and planning her record, the singer came to the conclusion that she didn’t want to replicate the track listing from the original; that she’d like to mix in songs that were written since Modern Sounds – and represent the five decades since it shook things up musically in America. But five Modern Sounds songs are at the heart of The Blue Room – and Peyroux and Klein have done a great job of reimagining them, and Peyroux has made them her own.

Indeed, what comes across very strongly is that this album – which comprises other people’s compositions – sounds so personal, almost as autobiographical as Peyroux’s 2009 CD of original material, Bare Bones. Peyroux’s explanation is that “these might be the most intimate arrangements I’ve ever sung – they’re very naked and revealing in the way they’re constructed, in the way they support the voice and that’s one of Larry’s signatures”. But much of the personal feel is to do with the song choices. Did any of them resonate particularly with her?

“Born to Lose really hits home. I have a melancholy side and I think that’s probably no surprise to people who have heard my songs and my song choices over the years, and how I perform, and Born to Lose has melancholy in bold face definition – like this is what it’s about.”

Another one that leaps out as being a perfect vehicle for Peyroux – whose unsettled past (her turbulent relationship with her late alcoholic father; her years in Paris as a street musician living rough; her vanishing acts just after her very first CD was released back in the mid-1990s and then again when she was touring with Careless Love in 2005) has been well documented – is Randy Newman’s Guilty, about a tortured soul who’s drinking because “it takes a whole lot of medicine for me to pretend I’m somebody else”. Peyroux loves the fact that it’s a song that was written by a male singer-songwriter. “I actually think a lot of people wouldn’t imagine a woman singing those words.”

Indeed, it was an early morning session in a California bar that inspired the title of the album – a title which has absolutely nothing to do with Rodgers and Hart, who wrote a song of the same name. Peyroux explains: “I did the photo shoot for this record in a bar in Burbank. It was called The Blue Room.It was just a very old school, maybe sort of 1950s, bar, with mirrors and blue leather booths, no windows, no natural light coming in, it gave on to a parking lot – you had to drive in to because in Burbank it’s all roads and highways. I met some people that were there drinking and talked to them.

“One of the gentlemen there was from Selma, Alabama. He had been born in the 1940s and had lived through the civil rights riots in Selma, Alabama during the 1960s and then had been carted off to Vietnam where he had fought in the war under people that were from the south who were aware of his roots and gave him a hard time. When he came back he struggled to find a job, and ended up travelling around the United States as a salesman, as a clothing designer, as so many different things. He’d had a long life and he was there drinking at 10.30 in the morning and I asked him: ‘How did you end up here in Burbank? I mean, I understand you’re from Selma but why are you here?”. And he said: ‘I just couldn’t go no further.’

“It reminded me of so many American stories, stories about the United States of America and the culture here, and what it is to be American. And this whole record had a lot to do with that for me. It represents a lot of the questions that I think are part of what makes up the question of American identity because of the expansiveness of this country, the importance of the 20th century in our little history that we have here as a nation.”

Peyroux clearly also feels as if she’s been on a journey with this album, and has relished the chance to explore in more depth than before her relationship with country music. Are there any other musical interests or passions that have yet to be reflected on a Peyroux CD, I ask (after being advised to listen to more Hank Williams and Johnny Cash).

“Uh,” replies Peyroux slightly guiltily. “Well .. rap. I love a really good rap – there have been some though they’re rare!”

* The Blue Room (Universal) is out on Monday. Madeleine Peyroux plays the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on May 2.

This article was first published in The Scotsman on Thursday April 4 

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