Tag Archives: Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux & Her Anthem of Hope

MADELEINE PEYROUX redAnybody who was at the City Halls last June to witness Madeleine Peyroux’s return to Glasgow after a decade’s absence will remember that it was an extraordinarily moving experience; the sort of five-star concert experience that doesn’t come along very often. The American singer-songwriter with the sultry, bluesy voice held the audience in the palm of her hand and there was a strong sense of solidarity when she made reference to the political situation in the States and took the mickey out of its president.

Little wonder, then, that Peyroux remembers her one Scottish gig of 2017 clearly when we speak on the phone to discuss her next Scottish date – in Edinburgh later this month. But what is a surprise is just how much of an impression that June day in Glasgow made on her, and how it played a part in the way she approached her new album, Anthem, which is the catalyst for her current European tour.

Reminded of that concert, the 44-year-old immediately responds: “That was a memorable visit to Glasgow. It changed me. It was a big part of my growing up. Before the concert, I met some Glaswegians out on the street and they started telling me about their personal lives – two blokes, two fans, told me about some very serious tragic things that they had gone through. It was very generous of them; it was a real human connection and it made me think very deeply about how I’ve got to be open to that all the time. I have to assume that people want to talk about the hardest things; I shouldn’t shy away from it. I should be open to these conversations.”

It’s little wonder that anyone who has followed Peyroux’s career or is familiar with her recorded output through which run recurring themes about alcoholism, homelessness, falling foul of the law and romantic disappointment should feel that she is approachable and ready to listen. This is the woman who began her performing life as a busker on the streets and metro lines of Paris and who told The Herald in 2009 when she was promoting her first, painfully honest, album of original material that she had “spent a lot of time with sadness”.

So how did the Glaswegian experience impact on Anthem? “I realised that the conversation needs to be on a personal level.” The conversation to which Peyroux refers is about the current political situation, a subject which may have united her with her Scottish fans but which is a thorny topic in her homeland. The seeds for the album were sown during the 2016 US elections when Peyroux was touring the length and breadth of the States, getting a sense of her country and trying to find ways to connect with audiences who don’t necessarily hold the same views as she does.

Does she have to watch what she says about Trump in the States? “Yes. The new record was definitely inspired by concerts where I found that I wasn’t able to talk about issues properly and couldn’t find the repertoire that reflected what was in the air – especially in 2016. I’ve realised that it’s not necessary for me to say anything more about him. He gets enough attention and he thrives on any sort of attention he gets.

“The conversation needs to be on a more personal level so I decided to embrace speaking through the music only. The songs here are based on what’s happened – there’s Lullaby which was inspired by the image of a refugee in the ocean, and Down On Me was inspired by the financial paradox one finds oneself involved – one can’t get back on the horse if one falls off. Songs are meant to speak, and these are deliberately not preachy.”

The record is a group of stories of different people’s experiences and presents an intimate view of politics – through the prism of the personal. “The idea of writing new songs was at the back of my mind at the same time as I was invited to be part of a songwriting session where five of us were stuck together for a few days at a time in LA over a course of a year. It got to the point that I was really excited and wanted to record the songs right away; they felt so connected to what was going on. We recorded it last fall.”

The sessions were the brainchild of Larry Klein, the acclaimed producer with whom Peyroux had collaborated on four albums, including her 2004 breakthrough chart-topper Careless Love and, most recently, her 2013 foray into country music, The Blue Room. Peyroux found it particularly exciting to be writing the songs with musicians, “instruments in hand”, and hearing the songs – which span the musical genres from Marvin Gaye-like We Might As Well Dance to the bluesy funk of Down On Me – come to life.

Unlike her masterful 2009 album Bare Bones, which Peyroux wrote mostly with one collaborator per number, the songs on Anthem were mostly been born out of these afternoon jam sessions. She says: “I was the catalyst for those songs and I used the skills of partners, such as David Baerwald, to finish them.”

An exception to that was All My Heroes, an unblinkered but touching homage to some of the 20thCentury pop icons who have died in the last few years – “All my heroes were failures in their eyes/Losers, drunkards, fallen saints, and suicides.”

Peyroux explains: “The day after one of our former poet laureates died, David came in to the session bemoaning the loss and said ‘Let’s write something about that.’ So the song was inspired by all these great people we’ve been losing like David Bowie, Prince, Robin Williams, and also I had lost a dear friend, so it felt like the natural time to try to address this feeling of loss. So it was David’s idea and it changed form several times.” Indeed, Robin Williams was one of the heroes Peyroux said, back in 2009, “made my life bearable when it was unbearable.”

It was, appropriately, a recently deceased hero of Peyroux who provided the title number – one of only two non-original tracks on the CD. Despite being a fan of Leonard Cohen, whom she knew originally as the father of a classmate from the American School in Paris, for years – and having previously recorded two of his songs – Peyroux hadn’t heard Anthem until Klein, who thought it fitted in well with how they were feeling about the political situation, brought it to her.  She quickly became obsessed with it and with working out how she wanted to perform it.

“The stand-out line in the song,” says Peyroux, “is – ‘There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in’. It has this power of hope. He’s saying: ‘Look at how terrible this is and then live through it and come out the other side.’ It’s really become a personal anthem, and I felt that it tied together all the stories on the record so it had to be the title song.”

* Anthem (Decca) is out now. Madeleine Peyroux is touring the UK this week, including Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Sunday November 25. For tour details, visit www.madeleinepeyroux.com

*  First published in The Herald on Saturday November 17

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Review: Hailey Tuck, Glasgow Jazz Festival

Hailey Tuck, St Luke’s, Glasgow, Thursday June 21st  ****Hailey Tuck
 
The young Texan singer Hailey Tuck, who made her Scottish debut at the Glasgow Jazz Festival on Thursday, is not so much the next Madeleine Peyroux or Melody Gardot as she is their musical lovechild.
 
Like Gardot, she has an assured, controlled, sultry voice and a flair for drama, and like Peyroux, she has a spare, pared-back singing style, a way of hanging back from the beat and making unexpected forays into the upper reaches of her range.
 
Skipping onstage in a Jean Harlow frock and sporting her signature Louise Brooks bob, Tuck won the St Luke’s congregation over with her infectious joie-de-vivre and the self-deprecating humour she revealed as she recounted her escapades in the music world and how she managed to catch the attention of Peyroux and Gardot’s producer, Larry Klein, who produced her debut album.
 
Her storytelling skills were also much in evidence in the way she put over her eclectic programme; the range of song choices inspired – she said – by Klein’s ethos of sitting pop songs alongside jazz standards. So we had a bossa nova take on the Zombies’ Tell Him No, which worked well with Tuck’s sultry, seductive voice, and a brilliant version of Pulp’s Underwear which the coquettish Tuck evocatively brought to life.
 
Less successful were the over-aranged numbers in which Tuck’s vocals were drowned out by her trio, and her strange mutations of the familiar melodies of My Heart Belongs to Daddy and Trouble In Mind. The latter may have been a blues touching on suicide, but – as with every song on Thursday – it was sung with a smile by the kittenish Tuck, the cat who’s got the cream and just can’t hide her delight.
First published in The Herald, Monday June 25th
…………..
Programme
* Don’t Think Twice
* Sunday Morning
* Polka Dots and Moonbeams
* Trouble in Mind
* Alcohol
* Tell Him (Her) No
* So In Love
* Everything Happens To Me
* My Heart Belongs to Daddy
* Cry to Me
* Say You Don’t Mind
* Underwear
* Do You Know What I Means to Miss New Orleans
* St James Infirmary
* After You’ve Gone
* Junk (encore)

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Review: Madeleine Peyroux, City Halls, Glasgow

Madeleine Peyroux, City Halls, Glasgow, Sunday June 4th *****

After a decade’s absence from Glasgow, the American singer-guitarist Madeleine Peyroux made a triumphant come-back on Sunday, to the delight of an adoring audience which hung on her every last word and note. Accompanied by just guitar and bass, she performed songs from across her career, and although she has moved through the genres in the 13 years since her first major album, she has clearly taken fans with her on the journey – and she still infuses everything she sings with a bluesy, slightly tortured, soulfulness.

Sunday’s concert benefitted from the fact that the City Halls’ Grand Hall is half the size of Royal Concert Hall and the Usher Hall, where she has previously played, and it was therefore possible to create the sort of intimate atmosphere that complements and enhances her confessorial style.

Now in her forties, Peyroux appears much more relaxed onstage, quietly holding court from her chair beside, rather than in front of, her band-mates. Indeed, Sunday’s gig revealed her playful, humorous side as she mocked Donald Trump, pretending that he was on the other end of the phone as she sang Kansas Joe McCoy’s Hello Babe, with the memorable line “you ain’t gonna worry my life no more”, and wisecracking “I ain’t got no healthcare either” during a gorgeous, swinging version of I Ain’t Got Nobody, one of several numbers which featured lovely backing vocals from Jon Herington (guitar) and Barak Mori (bass).

Other stand-outs included Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Agua de Beber (what a treat to hear Peyroux do bossa!), Randy Newman’s Guilty    one of the “drinking songs” dedicated to Peyroux’s father – and J’ai deux amours, whose line “mon coeur est ravi” (“my heart is ravished”) seemed to sum up the Sunday night experience.

  • First published in The Herald, Tuesday June 6th

Getting’ Some Fun Out of Life

Hello Babe

Tango Till They’re Sore

Guilty

If The Sea Was Whisky

Our Lady of Pigalle

I Ain’t Got Nobody

Bird On a Wire

It’s Getting Better All the Time

You Can’t Catch Me

Don’t Wait Too Long

Don’t Cry Baby

J’ai deux amours

Trampin’ On

Shout Sister Shout

Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky

Agua de Beber

Dance Me To the End of Love

Careless Love

This Is Heaven To Me

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Review: Madeleine Peyroux, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Madeleine Peyroux, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wednesday November 27th ****

What a difference a decade makes. The first time American singer Madeleine Peyroux appeared in Edinburgh following the success of her breakthrough album, Careless Love, she stood awkwardly in front of the audience with apologetic body language and the embarrassed expression of a little girl who’s been forced to perform.

The Peyroux who stood before the packed Usher Hall on Wednesday was almost unrecognisable as the same person. She held her own onstage, and cracked jokes with the audience – mostly on the same, drinking, theme as the many of her songs. Accompanied by her trio, plus a string quartet, she dished up a mix of numbers from her current CD, The Blue Room, plus that first album and its follow-up.

A grand concert hall is not the ideal setting for a singer whose style is so intimate and whose appeal is very personal and direct. Yes, she filled the Usher Hall with her wonderfully characterful and imperfect voice on Wednesday and was well appreciated, but in a smaller venue (such as Ronnie Scott’s, where she played a similar programme in the spring), she was able to mesmerise the punters, lock eyes with them, draw them in – very much a la Piaf – and to leave them emotionally destroyed.

On Wednesday night’s Desperados Under the Eaves, she came close – we were hungry for it – but there was just too much distance between her, the dot on stage, and us. Those elements which made her Ronnie Scott’s performance a five-star, unforgettable, experience got lost in the translation to a big hall – though she (and the lighting designer) did an impressive job of creating as intimate an atmosphere as the venue would allow.

First published in The Herald, Friday November 29th

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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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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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