Madeleine Peyroux "The Blue Room"

Madeleine Peyroux borrows inspiration from a Ray Charles concept album for a pensive, gorgeous record.

 

In 1962 Ray Charles released his seminal album Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music. Having gained fame and garnering some controversy for mixing gospel, blues and jazz, the master decided to take it one step further by recording songs from the country canon. The work revealed the connectedness of the genres and challenged racial perceptions that separated the styles. Using that work as a springboard, Madeleine Peyroux and producer Larry Klein revisit four songs from that album, matching them with five others that exhibit the same spirit. It makes sense that Peyroux, who has built her career on her unique interpretations of a variety of songwriters and genre, would want to investigate Charles’ concept although it was Klein who initiated the project.  

The Blue Room opens with lush strings and a restrained tempo that has become Peyroux’s signature sound. Her approach to “Take These Chains From My Heart” is more mellow than anything you’ll hear on Charles’ release, but Peyroux is not out to replicate the original versions or impersonate them on her original choices. Her languid phrasing is reminiscent of the great Billie Holiday and, yet again, this is less an attempt at reproduction and more a form of personal expression. As a musician Peyroux is an old soul and this shows in her ability to reach back to older generations of singers for inspiration.

Charles’ rendition of “Bye Bye Love” was a raucous R&B number. Peyroux turns it into a Lazy Boy kind of song with a hip little lilt. Another track borrowed from Modern Sounds featuring that easy, sauntering rhythm is Don Gibson’s heartbreaker “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”  However, the real heart wrencher “You Don’t Know Me” is weighted with silky strings and could easily be snuck into the background of an episode of Mad Men. “Born To Lose” is less pained than Charles’ version; Peyroux instead hints at a comfortable acceptance.

 Klein and Peyroux ablely match new material with the old. Randy Newman’s “Guilty” is a particular standout as those aforementioned strings strain out the writer’s cynicism. Peyroux has long been a fan of Leonard Cohen and here she creates a pensive meditation with his “Bird On a Wire.” John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” is reworked in such a way that it makes Glen Campbell’s version seem absolutely poppy. Warren Zevon’s “Desperados Under the Eaves” has never sounded so regal as here, and Peyroux resurrects a little known Buddy Holly song, “Changing All Those Changes” as the first single from the album.

Peyroux is backed by a superb supporting cast: Larry Golding, Dean Parks, David Piltch, and Jay Bellerose are subtle players who know how to gently maneuver between the sparse arrangements provided by Larry Klein. Vince Mendoza provides and conducts the string arrangements.

 

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)