Madeleine Peyroux is back with her third release, Half the Perfect World, another series of songs that provide different glimpses onto the many-faceted jewel that is love. Arguably the best vocalist working today, her captivating siren call wavers on the border between joy and heartbreak, simultaneously presenting the pleasure and pain love brings through her evocative voice.
Among those she sings about are those who have loved and lost, those whose love is unrequited, and those who have mistaken a relationship for love. Johnny Mercer’s “Summer Wind” comes blowin’ in as the music swings slowly like a backyard hammock on a warm, summer night. Gary Foster’s alto sax solo adds the right amount of flourish. The song fades away just like the summer fling it describes.
Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas’ “Blue Alert” sounds the alarm as the soft bells of the celesta softly ring. Peyroux tries to warn you, but you don’t listen as you try to get the girl you can’t. Your desire “tells you No and No again,” but you forge ahead foolishly even though “Any way you turn is going to hurt.” The organ wonderfully punctuates during the bridge.
“I’m All Right” opens the album, shuffling along with an easygoing rhythm led by the lilting sounds of a Wurlitzer and the strum of a guitar and ukulele. Co-written by Peyroux, Jesse Harris (the songwriter/guitarist best known for his work on Norah Jones’ debut), and Walter Becker (guitarist of Steely Dan), the song tells the story about being all alone in a relationship, yet she stays in it, telling herself “… I’m all right/ I’ve been lonely before.” Her lover is distracted by himself and unaware: smoking cigars in bed, when she asked “for a few kind words,/ He gave me a novel instead-,” and getting drunk and trashing their place. She wrongly convinces herself to stay because “tears don’t leave any scars.” Towards the end, you can hear her make up lyrics on the fly. She breaks character, chuckling at her word choices.
If you’ve ever regretted your decision to break up with someone, Joni Mitchell’s “River,” which finds Peyroux joined by k.d. lang, will tear your heart apart. Their voices ooze the pain brought on by second thoughts about choosing to let go of “the best baby/ That I ever had” through your selfishness. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Mitchell’s superb lyrics; the economy of her words to relate such a powerful story is amazing. Look for this in the duet category at the Grammys.
A new song that should reach classic status is “Once In A While,” an affirmation that someone is moving on from a bad relationship. It’s no one’s fault, or maybe it is both people’s fault that they stayed together longer than their love existed. She informs that they’re not all bad memories because “when I think of your kisses, I’m still gonna smile/ I’m still gonna miss you.” Some days even she’ll “wake up/ wondering why we gave up,” but that’s to learn from past mistakes not to re-open that door because luckily, “once in a while/ Comes and fades away.”
The album also contains Peyroux covering Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” from Midnight Cowboy, Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” from Modern Times, and the title track by Leonard Cohen. Through the use of a pedal steel guitar, Tom Waits’ “(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night” becomes a country song. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Peyroux album without her singing in French; this time it’s Serge Gainsbourg’s “La Javanaise.”
Once again, producer Larry Klein does a fantastic job augmenting Peyroux. The band is a perfect compliment to Peyroux and special mention should go to Sam Yahel on Wurlitzer piano and Hammond Organ, and Jay Bellerose on Drums, though he should really be credited as Brushes.