Secular Hymns Madeleine Peyroux
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Info for Secular Hymns
Twenty years after her recording debut, Dreamland, Madeleine Peyroux continues her musical journey of exploring beyond the ordinary with Secular Hymns, a spirited and soulful masterwork of loping, skipping, sassy, feisty and sexy tunes delivered in a captivating mélange of funk, blues and jazz.
With her trio that had been touring together for two years—electric guitarist Jon Herington and upright bassist Barak Mori—Peyroux set out to record in a live setting a collection of songs that have their own hymn-like stories of self-awareness and inner dialogue, a communal consciousness and a spiritual essence.
“Music has been our spiritual life,” she says. “So I think of these as hymns, secular hymns—songs that are very individual, personal, introverted.”
With her seductively expressive voice, Peyroux intimately renders tunes by seminal blues artists (two penned by Willie Dixon and one by Lil Green), the classic gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the under-the-radar dub star Linton Kwesi Johnson, three renowned contemporary composers (Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Allen Toussaint), the 19th century composer Stephen Foster (considered to be the first great songwriter in America) and ending with a traditional African-American spiritual.
What’s remarkable is the unique way in which this recording came to life. The story starts with a concert in an old church in the rural Oxfordshire countryside of England. Celebrated French chef Raymond Blanc had purchased an old manor in the tiny village of Little Milton and renamed it Belmond Le Manoir where he hosts events, including a nine-course meal in his Michelin-starred restaurant. As a part of the whole experience, people are invited before dinner to go to the nearby 12th-century Norman-styled church, St. Mary the Virgin, to attend a concert of live music. Last year Peyroux and her trio were invited to perform.
“At the sound check, I was singing Randy Newman’s song ’Guilty,’ and it was amazing the way my voice sounded in the cavernous room,” Peyroux says. “It has a wood ceiling that gave my voice a reverb. My live engineer Doug Dawson told me I should make a record there.”
Fresh from the rarefied experience of performing their songbook there, a few months later, they all returned to the church with Peyroux wanting to document the secular hymnal she and her band had been developing on the road. “We had all become very close, and we were stretching to come up with new sounds,” the acoustic guitarist says, noting that she had added a guilele (an acoustic, nylon-stringed tenor ukulele) to the voice of the band. “Jon became very versatile on the guitar and Barak was good with the bow. Plus they both like to sing. ”
Peyroux booked the 200-seat church for three days—first day for set up and sound check, second for a free live show for townspeople that was recorded, and third to recut new live takes sans audience if needed. “It was a blast playing with Jon and Barak and so much had to do with the interplay among us,” says Peyroux. “It’s a recording that reflects the organic way we had been working as a trio on the arrangements of these songs.”
While noting that she veers away from being “the normal jazz trio,” Peyroux nonetheless brings her jazz sensibility into roots music territory in such a moving way that she captures the celebration and praise implied in the songs—a special ten-song collection of bona fide Secular Hymns.
Madeleine Peyroux, vocals, guitar
Jon Herington, guitar
Barak Mori, double bass
[pronounced like the country Peru] was born in Athens, Georgia, she grew up between Brooklyn, Southern California and Paris, though it was in the City of Light where she found her voice. As a teen she was drawn to street music, and in 1989 she started to perform with a group of buskers. She then joined the Lost Wandering Blues & Jazz Band, becoming the only female in the group, which toured around Europe for several years.
Madeleine burst onto the recording scene in 1996, with her stunning debut album Dreamland. Madeleine was greeted with a veritable torrent of gushing reviews. Most raved about her smoke-and-whiskey vocals, often comparing her to the late, great Billie Holiday. Others wondered how someone so young could perform classic songs by Holiday, Bessie Smith and Patsy Cline so convincingly as to make them sound like her own. Time magazine pronounced the groundbreaking Dreamland "the most exciting, involving vocal performance by a new singer this year."
Madeleine, then an American who had been living in Paris as a street musician, suddenly found herself on the fast track to fame. Appearances at Lilith Fair and jazz festivals, and opening tours for Sarah McLachlan and Cesaria Evora followed, while Dreamland's sales reached an impressive 200,000 copies worldwide. "It was great," recalls Madeleine. "I got to perform with fantastic musicians. I got to see Nina Simone live. I could've kept running with it, but instead I stepped back and took a breather."
Careless Love on Rounder Records released in Sept. 2004, eight years after the release of Dreamland. Waiting that long to release her sophomore album is admittedly not a typical career move, but then Madeleine is not a typical artist.
Careless Love, produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin), will features songs as old as W. C. Handy's bluesy title track, popularized by Bessie Smith in the late 1920s, and others as recent as Elliott Smith's folky "Between the Bars." Madeleine also covers material as diverse as Hank Williams' "Weary Blues" and Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love."
Madeleine spent much of the time between Dreamland and Careless Love out of the public eye. But she never stopped singing, returning to her busking roots with street performances and club dates around the world from Los Angeles (to New Orleans to New York City) to Western Europe before being signed by Rounder Records in 2003.
Careless Love was a worldwide sales and critical success, putting Madeleine back on fame's fast track.
Madeleine's followed up Careless Love with Half the Perfect World, released Sept. 2006, again pairing Madeleine and producer Larry Klein. Half the Perfect World builds on and expands on the direction set with Careless Love, featuring a broad range of songwriters include Madeleine herself.
This album contains no booklet.