Melancholy with a touch of optimism

Madeleine Peyroux will hit Tel Aviv with her jazzy music, interlacing elements of pop into the songs.

Madeleine Peyroux 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Madeleine Peyroux 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A scenario, if you please: An artist records an original piece that shoots to the top of the charts. The world is ablaze! Said artist tours the world; the song is played in a constant loop on every hip radio station; inebriated people sing it in karaoke bars. The craze then dies down, and though the fans are solid in their support, they move on to the next big-timer. Some time later - over a course of decades, even - a new, bright-eyed artist will rerecord the single as a cover. The age-old question is asked: Who sang it better? Gloria Jones or Soft Cell? Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston? Elvis Presley or UB40? For American singer and guitarist Madeleine Peyroux's first three CDs, this was probably the most pressing matter. A jazz artist with pop influences, most of her earlier recordings covered other musicians such as Edith Piaf, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Elliott Smith. Her deep, robust voice infuses the original songs with unique personality and amusement, making it seem as though she found the paradoxical secret to living joyfully through cynicism. Her crystalline pronunciation, lightly accented from her extended time in France, is threaded with a palpable sense of experience. Her version of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" takes the haunting song and turns it into a cheeky jazz romp fit for a smoky underground club. Though Peyroux has been endlessly compared to Billie Holiday, the similarities only encompass genre and degree of vocal expression. Holiday's music is heavy with melancholy and carries weight that cannot be overlooked, even in her upbeat bars. Peyroux, though the melancholy themes common in jazz and blues are present, always has a touch of optimism in her tone and uses buoyant sections to overcome any depressive forsakenness. She utilizes the pop aspects in her music to lighten the mood as well. On Peyroux's Web site she says, "I've been working toward this all along. I don't think that we can really know drama without knowing comedy. They need each other in order to be real and complete. So in a sense, I'm trying to push the envelope of that subtle marriage between two opposites: happy and sad, tragic and comic or grief and renewal." She manages to do this with a relaxed kind of grace, finding the balance of emotional complexity inherent to the jazz genre. Her efforts paid off, and in 2007 she won Best International Jazz Artist at the BBC Jazz Awards. Peyroux's most recent CD, Bare Bones, was released in March and is the first of her albums to be comprised of entirely original tracks that she cowrote. The songs are jazzy with a hint of pop, allowing the words to come across smoothly, yet skipping along all the same. The topics vary typically between matters of life and love. Larry Klein, well known in the music industry and ex-husband of Joni Mitchell, produced this and Peyroux's previous two albums. It is with these achievements that Peyroux is currently on her world tour, arriving at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center this Friday for one show.