Peyroux in a perfect place with ‘Careless Love’ | AspenTimes.com
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Peyroux in a perfect place with ‘Careless Love’

Stewart Oksenhorn
Vocalist Madeleine Peyroux makes her Aspen debut, playing at the Wheeler Opera House this week.
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Madeleine Peyroux speaks a lot about the natural course of things. She seems to be a believer in fate, in the grand unseen plan.It’s hard to blame her. The 30-year-old singer’s career hasn’t gone exactly the way she would have planned. She certainly would not have chosen to go eight years between her acclaimed debut and her second album. Nor would she have written a bout with throat problems into her script.But Peyroux is content with where the universe has deposited her. “Careless Love,” Peyroux’s second album, released in September, has landed on numerous best of 2004 lists (including mine). Moreover, Peyroux herself loves the album; she considers herself lucky to be at the center of a recording collaboration that included producer Larry Klein and a core of musicians like keyboardist Larry Goldings and guitarist Dean Parks.

“Careless Love” has given Peyroux the kind of career – touring the world, landing near the top of the jazz best-seller charts – that would have been easily imagined for Peyroux in the mid-’90s. (Her current tour includes her Aspen debut, Thursday, Feb. 3, at the Wheeler Opera House.) In 1996, Peyroux arrived with “Dreamland,” released on Atlantic Records. It was not exactly an album in tune with the times, filled as it was with jazz-oriented interpretations of old country (“Walkin’ After Midnight”) and blues (“Reckless Blues”). Still, “Dreamland” struck a chord: The album sold in the six digits, a most respectable showing given the style, and critics fawned over the 20-something singer.But the course between “Dreamland” and “Careless Love” has been improbably long and bumpy. “Atlantic was eager to make a second record and gave me the opportunity to do it,” said Peyroux from Brooklyn, where she was raised and now lives again, after spending her teens in Paris. “But a couple of things got in the way – a lack of ideas of what to do on my part, as well as a bit of pressure to make a certain kind of record. The label wanted a little bit more crossover, a bit more artistic boundaries. It became a tug of war. And I stepped away by having a lot of vocal troubles.”Peyroux actually attempted to make a second record for Atlantic back in 1998. And while any year would have been a good one for Peyroux’s exotic voice and dreamy, expansive way with a song, 2004 seems to have been an even better time. For one thing, female jazz singers – Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, to name a few – have experienced eye-opening success. Smaller operations, like Rounder Records, which released “Careless Love,” can devote themselves to certain artists who almost certainly wouldn’t get the level of attention from a bigger company. And more than any time since the coming of the Beatles, audiences now are receptive to old songs, long-ago sounds and past traditions.Further, listeners are not as compartmentalized as they once were. So the fact that “Careless Love” can flow from a country guitar lick into an ancient blues shuffle into a jazz feel doesn’t shake the senses.”We all have ears enough for several things to be mixed together,” said Peyroux. “The fact that we live in a culture with all this music is to be celebrated. It’s great to see artists do that and to see audiences respond the way they do. That’s the nature of music, of the American music.”

Perhaps the most significant difference between Peyroux’s would-be 1998 album and “Careless Love” is the participation of Larry Klein. When it finally came time to record her second album, Peyroux took the advice of Yves Beauvais, her “Dreamland” co-producer, and enlisted Klein to help her craft “Careless Love.””Larry is so well-known as a producer in this genre, of singer-songwriters. And he’s had such success with female singers” said Peyroux of Klein, who has worked with Joni Mitchell, his ex-wife, and Shawn Colvin.At the project’s beginning, Peyroux would perform her own interpretations for Klein. When Klein got a feel for the songs, he brought in a crack team of instrumentalists: Parks and Goldings, bassist David Piltch and drummer Jay Bellerose. In just three days, “Careless Love” was recorded.”After focusing on these songs and sifting through them for so long, it became the magical moment and Larry brought these four musicians together and walked them straight to the studio,” said Peyroux. She gives Klein credit for more than just how smooth the process was, but also for the final product. “Larry’s intentions are real apparent on this record,” she added.Peyroux thinks Klein’s minmalist vision was ideal. The songs are mostly pulled from decades past: Hank Williams, W.C. Handy, Leonard Cohen. And Peyroux’s voice has a throwback quality; she is compared endlessly to Billie Holiday. But given the arrangements and the variety of the songs, “Careless Love” doesn’t feel like nostalgia.”From a musical standpoint, there’s a minimalist approach – which is a modern way of looking at anything,” said Peyroux. “That gave us a lot of freedom. And these players have a lot of modern ideas.”

“Careless Love” sounds neither retro nor cutting-edge. Having gone so long between recordings, the singer has had the opportunity to reflect upon the passing of time and changing tastes. “As I play these songs more and more, and after coming back into society after being out of the mainstream, it’s interesting how timing has such an impact,” said Peyroux. “Whether something is considered as modern or retro, and whether that’s in style, or even whether that matters at all.”The style is matched by the material. Peyroux is attracted to songs with enduring themes and language. At the emotional center of “Careless Love” is heartache, a subject that never seems out of vogue: The album features the wistful “No More,” Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” which gets a refreshingly lighthearted touch. Peyroux balances the melancholy with such brighter tunes as “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “This Is Heaven to Me.””The important part is whether people find it relevant to their lives,” said Peyroux of the songs. “This is why this music is having another go-round. It speaks to people. They’re hearing the message, the story. The meaning is still there.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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