Madeleine Peyroux ‘The Blue Room’ (Decca) Limited Edition CD + DVD 4/5

Way back at the the beginning of the 1960s, Ray Charles recorded two sides of music that represented a radical departure from his usual repertoire and, given the heightened tensions over race issues at the time, this was a brave attempt to attract new white audiences and ones that may have been potentially hostile to a black singer encroaching upon what was perceived as traditonally ‘white only’ music. These classic albums were titled ‘Modern Sounds of Country and Western Music’ and with the benefit of time have rightly become regarded as among Charles’ most loved sides, winning over even the most dieheard of country fans. It was as a tribute to these recordings, that producer Larry Klein and singer Madeleine Peyroux set about recapturing that essence, but in a modern day setting. Rather than reworking the songs contained on those two albums, more contemporary ones were used with just a few of the originals remaining. One of these was ‘I can’t stop loving you’ and is an atmospheric take that sticks close to the original, but adds an acoustic soulful input that lends a lovely gospel edge ot proceedings, especially with some tasty licks on the organ from keyboardist Larry Goldings. As with the original, strings have been added, but these are both sparingly and subtly used by jazz arranger Vince Mendoza and there is ample space for other instrumentalist to shine. A contender for most compelling cover is the gorgeous rendition of the Everley Brothers’ ‘Bye Bye Love’ which is taken at a decidely slower tempo than per usual and is given the Muscle Shoals treatment on electric piano while there is an organic country-blues feel to ‘Guilty’. Another winner is ‘You don’t know me’ which features a
lovely trumpet solo by John ‘Scrapper’ Sneider and in her use of phrasing here Peyroux sounds most like Billie Holiday. It is a superb interpretation and a definite album highlight. For gentle ballad artistry, the take on Don Gibson’s ‘I can’t stop loving you’ is a delicious rendition and this downtempo version with Peyroux’s natural blues-infused voice makes for a listening experience that lingers long in the mind and soul.

Madeleine Peyroux possesses a deeply blues-inflected voice that does sometimes recalls Billie Holiday, though she is certainly no soundalike. Both Peyroux and Klein are to be applauded for the time and effort spent to craft this latest album and it definitely shows. For those purchasing the limited edition CD + DVD, there is the added bonus of a ‘Making of’ documentary that for once departs from the predictable and instead provides a truly in-depth look into the creative process of recording and how the two aforementioned musicians were able to collaborate in spite of having contrasting visions of what was required. Peyroux, in particular, desrves credit for sticking to her guns and stamping her own individual imprint on the project which is anything but a rehashing of Charles’ original and it is all the better for that. Madeleine Peyroux has steadily built up a series of acclaimed albums and this is the fourth in a row under the supervision of Klein and it is a musical marriage that should be continued for some time to come.

Tim Stenhouse