Madeleine Peyroux: Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile: The Best of Madeleine Peyroux

Choosing the busker over the diva role, Madeleine Peyroux’s eclectic 20-year career is highlighted on this collection of jazz vocal non-standards.

Madeleine Peyroux
Label: Rounder
Title: Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile: The Best of Madeleine Peyroux
US Release Date: 2014-10-14
UK Release Date: 2014-10-06

Born in Athens, Georgia, but growing up hopping amidst New York City, southern California, and Paris, France, Madeleine Peyroux had already cultivated a world-weariness of voice and demeanor by the time Atlantic Records A&R VP Yves Beauvais discovered her singing in a NYC nightclub at the age of 16. When her acclaimed debut record, Dreamland was released four years later numerous reviews compared the 20-year-old to Billie Holiday, with Time declaring hers among the most important debuts of that decade and predicting worldwide success.

Success has indeed come for Peyroux, but it was muted by an eight-year gap between that first record and its follow-up and by her own disinclination to dedicate herself to the kind of careerism necessary to rise to the commercial level of a Celine Dion or Sarah McLaughlin. She traded the notoriety of opening for McLaughlin and similar stars for returning to her busking roots and, upon finally returning to recording, has followed a highly personal muse, choosing her songwriting collaborators carefully and devoting her considerable vocal interpretation skills to a collection of challenging, unconventional covers.

Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile: The Best of Madeleine Peyroux does an admirable job of guiding listeners through the growth of her distinctive voice and vision over the course of six albums covering 20 years and highlighting, in particular, the benefits brought by longtime producer Larry Klein’s tutelage. Probably because she’s a songwriter herself, Peyroux is an intuitive arranger of others’ work. Further, her informal training by street singers of Paris and New York has taught her the value of capturing an audience’s attention quickly and holding it, which is not to identify her technique with simple novelty. Her attention-getter is that voice, not just for its initial resemblance to those classic voices past, but for her warm command of nuance. Then, she holds her audience in the muted coolness of her emotive voicing.

Her treatments of two Leonard Cohen songs on this collection demonstrate this mix of coolness and warmth. When she sings “We lay us down to give and get / Beneath the white mosquito net / And since no counting had begun / We lived a thousand years in one” it is with the languidness of humidity and tropical, post-coital contentment that the lines induce. “Dance Me to the End of Love” offers a similarly understated sensuality, a rare thing in a pop culture where the histrionics of The Voice- and American Idol-influenced over-singing are mistaken for artistic expressions of emotion. Songs by Elliott Smith, Edith Piaf, and Bob Dylan receive equally nuanced treatment.

Peyroux demonstrates an uncanny depth of connection to the two Warren Zevon songs she performs here, the second, “Keep Me In Your Heart”, having first appeared on the soundtrack to Nancy Savoca’s 2011 film Union Square. The extended version of “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” collected here might be the collection’s highlight, Peyroux’s melancholy repetition of the phrase “Look away down Gower Avenue” resonating with the sad finality of Tim Buckley’s questioning of self-remembrance in “Once I Was” or of Van Morrison’s fading Goodbyes to “Madame George.”

Heavily represented by her first three releases and arguably a little light in presenting Ms. Peyroux’s songwriting skills (only four cuts here list her in songwriting credits), Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile is nonetheless an excellent introduction to Peyroux’s recorded oeuvre. Hers is a true vocalist’s art, and this collection belongs in the collection of any fan of vocal jazz.

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