Madeleine Peyroux (born April 18, 1974, Athens, Georgia, United States) is an American jazz singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Peyroux is noted for her vocal style, which has been compared to that of Billie Holiday.
When Peyroux was six, her father moved the family to Brooklyn so he could pursue a career in acting. She grew up in New York City and southern California; when her parents divorced, she moved with her mother to Paris at age 13. In several interviews, Peyroux describes her parents as “hippies” and classifies them as “eccentric educators,” who helped her pursue a career in music. She has stated that her father would “listen to old records all the time” and her mother had a ukulele that Madeleine learned how to play while she was still a child.
Early career and Dreamland
Peyroux started singing at the age of fifteen, when she discovered street musicians in the Latin Quarter in Paris. She joined a group called the Riverboat Shufflers, first by passing around the hat, and then by singing. At sixteen she joined The Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band and spent a number of years touring Europe performing jazz standards.
Her first album, Dreamland was released in 1996 by Atlantic Records, and gained widespread attention. The disc was recorded over five nights with an unusually eclectic crew of some of NY’s finest – guitarist Marc Ribot, saxman James Carter, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, keyboardist Charlie Giordano, violinist Regina Carter, drummers Kenny Wollesen & Leon Parker, with bassist/arranger Greg Cohen sharing production credit with Atlantic A&R man Yves Beauvais. It featured a cover of Patsy Cline‘s “Walkin’ After Midnight“, Édith Piaf‘s signature-song “La Vie en rose” and two Bessie Smith covers, among others. This first record resulted in her being referred to as the 21st century Billie Holiday, particularly owing to a “Gettin’ Some Fun Out of Life” cover and to “Hey Sweet Man”, an original song with a style highly reminiscent of Holiday. Time called it “the most exciting, involving vocal performance by a new singer this year”. Peyroux began opening for artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Cesária Évora, and made appearances at jazz festivals and on the Lilith Fair tour. In 1997, she made an appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival, where she performed with some guest artists, including James Carter. In this concert, Madeleine performed some standards like “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate“, a cover included on Montreal’s 30-years Best Of.
1997–2003: pairing with William Galison
Peyroux spent much of the next six years busking in Paris, performing occasionally in clubs in the U.S., and generally living a low-key existence. She continued to contribute to works by other artists, but rarely appeared in clubs under her own name. In 1997, she covered the song “Life is Fine” as a Rainer Ptácek tribute. She sings a duet, “A Fool at the Other”, with American singer/songwriter Mick Reed on the album Courtney’s Farm, by The Spring Valley Studs, which was released in 2003. The song appears again with the 2011 release of Mick Reed’s album, Goodnight, Texas. In May 2002, she joined multi-instrumentalist William Galison, and together they appeared at such venues as the Bottom Line, Joe’s Pub, and the Tin Angel. In 2003 the duo released a seven-song EP entitled Got You on My Mind, which they sold at shows and online. However, in 2003, their relationship ended. At the time, Peyroux was in negotiations with Rounder Records and showed the EP as demo. Although Peyroux claims she told the record company it was co-written with Galison, this has resulted in an ongoing lawsuit.[clarification needed]
Got You on My Mind was re-released by Galison in August 2004; the original EP was expanded by the addition of four tracks by Galison.
Careless Love (2004) and Half the Perfect World (2006)
After signing up for Rounder, Peyroux was teamed with well-known record producer Larry Klein. In September 2004, she released her second solo album, Careless Love, to generally positive reviews. It went on to sell over a million copies worldwide and took her out of anonymity. The album opens with one of her best-known songs, a cover of Leonard Cohen‘s, “Dance Me to the End of Love“, also featuring covers of Bob Dylan (“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go“), Elliott Smith (“Between The Bars”), and Hank Williams (“Weary Blues”), among others. As usual, the album also contained a French track, “J’ai Deux Amours“, and the only original track on the album was “Don’t Wait Too Long” (in collaboration with Jesse Harris and Larry Klein). The songs she covered were mostly from the first half of the 20th century but her choices showed, according to several reviews, “impeccable taste”.
Her third solo album, Half the Perfect World, was released on September 12, 2006. She collaborated with several artists, including Jesse Harris, Walter Becker, Larry Klein (who also produced the album), and k.d. lang, with whom Peyroux performed a cover of the Joni Mitchell song “River“. Once again, the songs were carefully chosen, and she sang covers of more contemporary artists. Notable covers include “Blue Alert” and “Half the Perfect World” by Leonard Cohen/Anjani Thomas; “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons; a rendition of Serge Gainsbourg‘s “La Javanaise” and Tom Waits‘ “(Looking for) the Heart of Saturday Night”. Unlike her previous album, Half the Perfect World had four original tracks.
On September 3, 2006, Peyroux performed a live session for Live from Abbey Road at Abbey Road Studios. She shared her episode with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snow Patrol; it was aired in the UK on Channel 4 and in the USA on the Sundance Channel. On July 12, 2007, she was awarded Best International Jazz Artist at the BBC Jazz Awards.
Bare Bones (2009)
Her fourth solo album, Bare Bones, released on March 10, 2009, was a turning point in Peyroux’s career with all original tracks. The album was produced by Larry Klein and she collaborated with songwriters Walter Becker, Joe Henry, David Batteau, and Julian Coryell. The album featured a sole Peyroux-penned composition, “I Must Be Saved”, and its first single was “You Can’t Do Me”, a song with a soul-rock beat, a new style for the vocalist. The album received mostly favorable reviews and the lyrics were praised. After its release the singer toured in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, and Asia.
On November 23, 2009, Somethin’ Grand, Peyroux’s first live concert album, was released. The DVD was filmed and recorded in Los Angeles in January 2009. Her set included nine out of the eleven songs of Bare Bones and some others from the previous albums. The DVD also contained a documentary, Somethin’ Grand – A Portrait of Madeleine Peyroux, which offered a glimpse of her background and history.
Standing on the Rooftop (2011)
On January 4, 2011, Peyroux announced through her website that she would release a new album that spring. On March 15, she announced the actual release date to be June 14, 2011, under Decca Records, and that the album was to consist mainly of her newly written songs. The album was produced by Craig Street (Norah Jones, k.d. lang, Cassandra Wilson) and “signals a new approach for the musician as she carries her jazz sensibilities into rootsier territory”.
She also offered a two-song preview of the new album: a cover of the Beatles‘ song Martha, My Dear and a new original song The Things I’ve Seen Today which she co-wrote with vocalist/violinist Jenny Scheinman. The two-track EP was released on March 29. The album itself features contributions from Marc Ribot on guitar/banjo, Me’shell Ndegeocello on bass, drummer Charley Drayton (Keith Richards, Neil Young, Johnny Cash) and guitarist Chris Bruce (Seal, John Legend). The album was released on June 6, 2011. High-profile tour dates were to follow the release of the album.
In 2003 she collaborated with Mick Reed singing a duet entitled A Fool at the Other which appears on the album Courtney’s Farm by The Spring Valley Studs. The song also appears on Mick Reed’s “Goodnight, Texas” (2011) album. In 2008, Peyroux collaborated with Phil Roy on his third album, The Great Longing, as a duo on the track Exceptionally Ordinary. Madeleine Peyroux also covered “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” from the Still Breathing soundtrack and “Life Is Fine” for a Rainer Ptácek tribute.
Image and publicity
Peyroux eschews publicity and keeps a low profile. She has dropped “out of sight” for extended periods of time, as when she spent several years busking after the release of her first record.
The ballad Don’t Wait Too Long was featured in an American national television ad campaign for Dockers San Francisco brand apparel and the entire song played over the closing credits of the movie The Answer Man, released in 2008. The song was also played in the 2006 film Last Holiday and the 2014 film The Rewrite“. A clip of her recording of Blue Alert was used in an Old Navy jeans advertisement in 2007. The song A Prayer from the album Dreamland featured in the closing credits in the HBO television series Deadwood, in the episode E.B. Was Left Out. Peyroux’s rendition of J’Ai Deux Amours is featured in the 2014 film Diplomacy.
- Madeleine Peyroux – official site