On Half the Perfect World, southern-born chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux follows in the footsteps of the collaborative Got You On My Mind (Waking Up, 2004), creating a pleasant medley of jazz, blues, and pop. With her backing band and Billy Holiday-inspired vocals, Peyroux crafts her own renditions of songs from the likes of folk-rock heroes Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell. Whether in the key of jazz or blues, Peyroux has certainly fashioned an album that's both coffeehouse-ready, and fit for after-hours listening.
On the Fred Neil-penned "Everybody's Talkin,'" drummer Jay Bellarose and bassist David Piltch's hushed bossa nova rhythms are mingled with Sam Yahel's fluttering piano and Dean Parks' rolling guitar. Topped off with Peyroux's gentle coo, the group transforms Harry Nilsson's 1969 free-wheeling folk classic into an intimate jazz lullaby.
Peyroux breathes new life into "(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night," replacing Tom Waits' boozy rasp and melancholy composition with her own soft, smoky soprano and acoustic guitar. Greg Leisz's mewing pedal steel, Bellaroses' tender brush work, and Till Bronner's muted trumpet come together to provide a much lighter, dreamier melody than that of Waits' version, but still manage to keep the folk soul of "Saturday Night" intact.
Joni Mitchell's "River" appears as a duet with the mezzo-soprano songstress K.D. Lang. Peyroux and her company of players take Mitchell's folk piano-ballad and convert it to resemble a sullen blues standard. The limitations in vocal range heard in both Peyroux and Lang don't hurt the song at all, and appear to be rather intentional. Moreover, Peyroux's interpretation seems to compliment traditional blues/ragtime singer Bessie Smith, who she has paid homage to for her own signature phrasing, by singing slightly off key and with a downhearted sensitivity, while still remaining true to the source material.
The album's title track, written by Leonard Cohen and originally sung by long-time collaborator Anjani as a quiet ballad, is given a light-stringed bossa nova treatment here as Peyroux muses of love in a way wholly reminiscent of Brazilian songbird Astrud Gilberto's brilliant recordings. Dean Parks' swaying contribution, Yahel's light-hearted piano, Bellaroses' faint rhythmic brush strokes, and Garry Foster's melodious sax prove to be the perfect accompaniment to Peyroux's sweet, aural presence.
"California Rain," one of four Peyroux-penned compositions, has the catchiness and vigor belonging to her sleeper hit "Don't Wait Too Long," from Careless Love (Rounder, 2004), while the easygoing "I'm Alright" finds Peyroux playful and witty amidst her laughter and nonsensical verse. The other two songs, although notable in their scope and artistry, don't seem as accessible as the songs that Peyroux has chosen to cover.
With Half the Perfect World, Peyroux not only takes a brave step in commemorating the many songwriters that inspire her, she redefines herself as an artist in the process by showcasing her knack for musical composition and creative panache. Peyroux is a proven and accomplished musician and singer, and possesses what very few jazz performers can ever hope to attain: staying power.
I'm Alright; The Summer Wind; Blue Alert; Everybody's Talkin'; River; A Little Bit; Once In a While; (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night; Half the Perfect World; La Javanaise; California Rain; Smile.
Madeleine Peyroux: Vocals and Acoustic Guitar; Dean Parks: Guitars; David Piltch: Bass; Jay Bellarose: Drums; Sam Yahel: Keyboards; Greg Foster: Saxophone; Greg Leisz: Pedal Steel; Till Bronner: Trumpet; Larry Goldings: Cello.
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