Secular Hymns -- Madeleine Peyroux

American born, Parisian raised Madeleine Peyroux is the true heir to Billie Holiday. Not so much in style, but in vocal character. Peyroux debuted on record almost twenty years ago with Dreamland. Her recordings over the years alternated between original material and covers. Secular Hymns is an album of covers. But the hymns take a lot of twists and turns. These are very original covers. 

Peyroux describes the album as '...a spirited and soulful masterwork of loping, skipping, sassy, feisty and sexy tunes delivered in a captivating melange of funk, blues and jazz.'. or, maybe they are the PR company's words? In any case, the description is spot on. 

Peyroux wanted an intimate, live feeling for the set. She recorded the album in an old Norman church in Oxfordshire, England. Joining her are two fabulous musicians and regular members of her trio -- guitarist Jon Herington (ex Steely Dan) and bassist Barak Mori. What they add to the album is incalculable. You won't hear more musical contributions from sidemen this year. And the recording is superb. The bass resonates beautifully and Herington weaves his magic in and around Peyroux's unique voice. 

Madeleine Peyroux, Barak Mori and Jon Herington. Photo credit: The Post and Courier.

Madeleine Peyroux, Barak Mori and Jon Herington. Photo credit: The Post and Courier.

As a set, Peyroux certainly has catholic tastes. Songs range from traditional spiritual Trampin and Stephen Foster's 1854 song Hard Times Come Again No More to contemporary composers Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Peyroux makes each song her own. Much like Norah Jones and other great artists, she infuses each song with an intimacy that captures the listener immediately. And as I mentioned, her fellow musicians add nothing but utter musicality to the proceedings. Listen to Mori's simple and effective bass lines throughout or Herington's contribution to Stephen Foster's classic with a Steely Dan progression to open (Mu Major?). Fantastic. 

Audiophiles will be running for this album for shows and their personal systems. You won't hear hear a better balance between voice and accompanying instruments this year.  And the bass! Oh my. Very highly recommended for the songs, recording and above all, the musical artistry. 

A special thank you to my beautiful friend Danielle for introducing me to Madeleine Peyroux many years ago. 

Track Listing: Got You On My Mind; Tango Till They’re Sore; The Highway Kind; Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On); If The Sea Was Whiskey; Hard Times Come Again No More; Hello Babe; More Time; Shout Sister Shout; Trampin'.

Personnel: Madeleine Peyroux: vocals, guitar: Jon Herington: guitar; Barak Mori: bass.

Impulse Records

Release date [2016]