I did not become aware of Madeleine Peyroux until her second album Careless Love came out in 2004 and instantly became enamored with her voice, a throwback to classic female jazz singers. I put her on my radar ever since and have caught television appearances, attended a concert, and obtained other releases. I had never heard of Got You On My Mind until a few weeks back, so I was surprised to learn that the album has been out for a few years. I double-checked Peyroux’s website, but it’s not listed in her discography.
It turns out Got You On My Mind has a compelling history. In 2005 UPI reported the pair used to be romantically involved and lawsuits were filed against each other. The collaboration was originally an EP of seven tracks. Allegedly, Peyroux took it around as a demo, which helped get her deal at Rounder Records. Two of the songs, “J’Ai Deux Amours” and “Heaven to Me,” were rerecorded for Careless Love. William Galison went back without her and added more material, four songs, to flesh out an album.
It opens with “Back in Your Own Back Yard.” Recorded by Al Jolson in 1927, it’s a wonderful song about the simple pleasures of having an imagination and a little place of your own. The music conjures up a backyard. Galison’s melodic guitar shines like the sun and James Wormworth’s shuffling brushwork sounds as pleasant as a breeze blowing through the trees.
Josephine Baker had a hit with in 1930 with “J’Ai Deux Amours.” Peyroux sings in French, conveying the emotion of being torn between two loves. Galison accompanies on harmonica, demonstrating the instrument’s jazz capabilities with a toe-tapping jazz on the bridge. Galison continues the theme sans Peyroux with “Flambee Montalbanese,” an instrumental that brings to mind the sidewalk cafes of Paris. His plays harmonica and is joined by the quartet Quadro Nuevo, comprised of a sax, bass, accordion, and guitar.
On the title track, the duo delivers a laid-back rendition of the blues number. Peyroux’s lilting voice combined with Galison’s very good guitar licks will have the listener slowly drifting down the Mississippi. The mood of a failed relationship continues with Galison offering up a mea culpa with John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” He only sings one line to close the song, allowing his harmonica to evoke the sadness of the lyrics throughout. Brian Mitchell on Wurlitzer organ does a great job of filling out the space.
The album switches emotions with the upbeat “The Way You Look Tonight” from the film Swing Time. Many artists have covered this standard, and it’s a great song for capturing that moment of bliss a lover feels “just thinking of you / and the way you look tonight.” The harmonica and Brad Terry’s clarinet lead the way on the instrumental “Rag for Madi,” which must have been created before the troubles began. “Playin’” is an original about the joys of playing music on street corners. Jean Baptiste Bocle’s Hammond B3 organ and Galison’s guitar blend well together as Peyroux belts the lyrics out.
The final song without Peyroux is “Shoulda Known.” Galison sings a retelling of “The Tale of the Frog and Scorpion” and gives it a swamp blues feel. Carly Simon is billed on the packaging as “the scorpion,” but she only sings one lyric rather than the whole part. After the fable, Galison drops the pretense and tells his story. “I met her downtown in a Bleecker Street bar / serenading some drunks for the tips in a jar / I knew her reputation through the old grapevine / but she sounded so sweet and she looked so fine.” Much like that ill-fated frog all Galison’s friends “can say is shoulda known” when it doesn't work out.
On “Heaven to Me” they return to that classic sound of softly strummed guitar, brushes, and Galison on harmonica. It’s a marvelous song about appreciating what you have, perfect for dancing with the one you love, looking into their eyes, and communicating everything with just a smile. The album closes out with their duet on “Heaven Help Us All,” an uplifting gospel-tinged number first sung by Stevie Wonder. Galison wrote an extra verse after 9/11 about “the innocents who's final hour it is” and “the angry men who take their lives with his.”
I hesitate recommending the album only because I am not sure what if any outcome to the legal entanglements has occurred, but issues between the artists aside, there’s no denying their talents mesh well together on Got You On My Mind. It’s intriguing to listen to their brief relationship revealed through songs because this project was started before their union ended.