Music: Madeleine Peyroux

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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She will never completely escape the Billie Holiday comparisons. She will still have her albums categorized as “jazz” despite a multitude of compelling evidence to the contrary. Madeleine Peyroux’s large and devoted fan base doesn’t see stylistic limitations, but rather appreciates the tremendous breadth of her repertoire, which seamlessly incorporates pop standards, deep blues, country, folk, French classics, distinctive and imaginative takes on songs by some of the great writers of the modern era, and, increasingly in the past few years, her own songs, which span many of those genres.


"Things I've Seen Today"

"Martha, My Dear"

Peyroux’s latest effort, Standin’ on the Rooftop—just her fifth full-length album since her stunning 1996 debut, Dreamland—should surprise and delight her longtime followers, and may also have enough creative twists and wrinkles to attract new listeners. After three albums working with producer/bassist Larry Klein and his fine stable of L.A. players, Peyroux enlisted Craig Street (well known for his extraordinary work with such singers as Cassandra Wilson, MeShell Ndegeocello, k.d. lang, Norah Jones and John Legend) and a handful of that producer’s favorite musicians to cut the new disc entirely in New York City, tracking primarily at Sear Sound. (The album comes out June 7 on the Decca label.) Peyroux’s previous album, Bare Bones (2009), consisted of songs written or co-written by Peyroux and various others (Klein, Walter Becker, Julian Coryell, et al). Standin’ on the Rooftop finds Peyroux once again writing most of the songs, but there are also three covers: The Beatles’ “Martha, My Dear,” Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and Dylan’s lovely “I Threw It All Away.”

According to Street, people had been suggesting that he and Peyroux work together for some time, and the two first got together three years ago at a diner in upstate New York. “We hung out for a while, and then we went in her pickup truck and she played me some demos she’d been working on with her sister that were just amazing. She ended up making another record with Larry [Bare Bones], but we stayed in touch, and every few months, I’d say, ‘You know, if you ever want to make a record with me.’ Then, toward the end of [2010], it coincided with when she wanted to make a new record.” Did Street go back and listen to Peyroux’s earlier albums to chart a course forward? “No. I was aware of her first album and I’d heard some other things and I’d seen her play live, but I almost never listen to what anybody’s done before I work with them. I’m listening for what somebody tells me they want to do; that’s what I look for.”

Adds Peyroux, “I really loved the songwriting I was doing last year and I was very excited about it. I got to a place where I had a handful of songs I really liked and was ready to record—not enough for a full record yet. But I had some specific desires, such as I wanted it to be in New York City. I also wanted the experience of working with another producer. Larry and I talked about it and he was aware of what was going on. I wanted to see what it would be like. Craig and I started talking a lot about the songs and possible directions and about all these other things—records we loved, sounds we loved—and things moved on from there.”

Both were surprised to learn that they shared a love for early ’70s soul music, such as Charles Wright’s Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and, most of all, Sly Stone’s groundbreaking There’s a Riot Goin’ On album. “I’d never heard any of that get referenced in her work, even in a subtle way,” Street says with a chuckle. “I wouldn’t have guessed she was really into funk rhythm guitar, wah-wah pedals, James Brown or Sly. But she is!”

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