Madeleine Peyroux’s reputation as a skilled song interpreter stands without question. Since her debut release in 1996 the singer has borne comparison to a number of great jazz chanteuses, most notably Billie Holiday. The pressure on the 21 year-old was so intense that she disappeared from the scene until her second release in 2004. By the time of her 3rd album, Peyroux had grown confident enough to mix a few of her own compositions with those of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Hank Williams.
Bare Bones features a more secure and mature artist who, under the tutelage of veteran producer and musician Larry Klein, has co-written 11 songs with several outstanding songwriters. Klein, who is Joni Mitchell’s ex-husband and collaborator, has been Peyroux’s musical guardian angel since working with her on her sophomore effort, Careless Love. It is he who first recognized Peyroux’s songwriting potential and who drafted her impressive list of collaborators.
Bare Bones is Peyroux’s most personal and revealing album to date and she uses her own life for fodder. Her troubled relationship with her late father is central to the album’s theme of survival and self examination and is explored in several songs. Peyroux writes without pity and spares on details as she exposes the effects of his alcoholism on her childhood. On “River of Tears” she sings “He could sit and drink the way a monk could pray.” In the hands of some writers the subject matter could become maudlin but Peyroux is given ample aid in writing, including Klein, Julian Coryell, David Batteau, Joe Henry, and Jesse Harris. Walter Becker of Steely Dan fame co-wrote “You Can’t Do Me,” a jaunty, humorous sounding song about a woman declaring her independence. Its upbeat tone belies the fact that Peyroux spent time in a domestic violence center as a child. The album’s last track “Somethin’ Grand,” Peyroux says, was written "in support of the new era with Barack Obama."
Peyroux’s music intersects jazz, blues and American roots music and she still garners inspiration from the great African American women divas. Like them she takes on the often harsh realities of a woman’s life with honesty and bravery and still finds the silver lining in the toughest of times.