A street busker in Paris at
15, lead singer with a Paris-based touring jazz and blues troupe by
16, Madeleine Peyroux--out of New Orleans and Brooklyn--grew up fast.
Indeed, since her 1996 debut, Dreamland, observers have
noted a world-weary quality to Peyroux's soulful, thick-as-molasses
contralto, singularly akin within her generation to the voice-as-instrument
sound of Billie Holiday both in the rich harmonics that inflect her
timbre and the deliberate, conversational quality of her phrasing.
On Dreamland and its 2004, Gold-certified followup, Careless Love, Peyroux put her mojo to work on covers - songs associated with antecedents as diverse as Holiday, Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. As she told me at the time, "My personal influences were varied enough that I could take advantage of them, and take great music from the Texas Swing, and from the Delta Blues, and from the New Orleans two-step, and so on, all the way up through the Civil Rights movement protest songs and things like that - sometimes it crossed over."
After another mostly-covers album, Half the Perfect World,
she put such rootsy strategies to work on Bare Bones,
from 2009, comprising her own original songs, some of them co-written
with the likes of Joe Henry, Walter Becker, and album producer Larry
The emotional nuance and verbal wit that suffuses the proceedings denotes a certain emotional maturity, as though the precocious, grown-up-too-soon young lady of times past has filled in the gaps of her odd upbringing.