Madeleine Peyroux: Careless Love —
In the ongoing effort to find the new Norah, it’s no surprise that someone thought of trying one of her precursors. Peyroux’s first album, Dreamland, got a big push in ’95, sold pretty well for a jazz vocals album, and she played the clubs and promptly disappeared. I liked the album and loved her distanced, cool demeanor and wise take on the songs, including some she wrote herself. I also liked the way she absent-mindedly strummed her acoustic like Joni Mitchell as she sang so measured and so sweetly. I confess I haven’t thought about her much since.
Now Rounder has a good idea in getting the sweet busker Peyroux back in the studio for a follow-up, and it’s even better. The songs are again well-chosen, and her delivery (now, as then, heavily, HEAVILY dependent on Billie Holliday) is always intelligent and emotionally right. This is listenable stuff with any rough edges burred off; don’t expect any challenging explorations.
Her takes on Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars” and Hank’s “Weary Blues” are smart enough, but her “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” has just gone around and around on my stereo since I got the album. It’s a sly rethinking of Dylan’s tune, just a little alteration of the rhythm that makes all the difference. Her wry approach to the lyric really brings up the wonderful ambivalence of the theme. (basically “Man, you are the perfect partner — it’s really gonna suck for me when I inevitably screw this up.”)
I guess another warning is in order for jazz purists and various cranks of all stripes: She sounds very very very much like Billie. A Billie that’s a lot less tortured and a lot less emotionally naked, but no one else. Her timbre and pitch are just very very similar, and her bluesy inflections are also mostly borrowed. I figure that therefore the worst thing one can say about it is that if you ever wondered what Billie would sound like singing Dylan or Elliott Smith or Leonard Cohen, now you sorta know. But some will scream “copycat,” I guess.