Jazz Singer Madeleine Peyroux Maturing on Latest, Standing on the Rooftop

Joined by luminaries Allen Toussaint, Marc Ribot, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Jenny Scheinman.

By , Columnist

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 Klein. 

On Peyroux's new release, Standing On The Rooftop [Universal/Decca], producer Craig Street frames the 36-year-old singer with luminaries--pianist Allen Toussaint, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, and violinist Jenny Scheinman--whose instrumental personalities are as one-note-recognizable as hers. She delves deeper into the American vernaculars cited above, putting her stamp on Paul McCartney's "Martha, My Dear," Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away," and Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain," and on eight originals, which include collaborations with Rolling Stone Bill Wyman ("The Kind You Can't Afford"), David Batteau, and Ribot, who composed a frame for the W.H. Auden poem "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love."

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.

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Ted Panken writes about jazz and creative music for DownBeat, Jazziz, and many other outlets; he broadcast it from 1985 to 2008 on WKCR. He recently launched a blog called Today Is The Question.

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