It’s been twenty years since Madeleine Peyroux released her debut album, Dreamland.  Although the comparisons to Billie Holiday that dogged her initially have lessened, they haven’t totally evaporated either.  Peyroux does share a certain smokey tone with Holiday along with the ability to warp time with her phrasing, stretching vowels beyond breaking point or shoehorning syllables into the smallest of spaces with an ease that baffles belief.  Peyroux also shares Holiday’s ability to know a good song when she hears it;to inhabit it completely and make it her own.  A good song needs a good songwriter and tonight Peyroux will take songs by songwriters such as Tom Waits, Lennon & McCartney, Stephen Foster, Allan Toussaint, Leonard Cohen, Linton Kwesi Johnson  and Willie Dixon and turn them inside out.

Tonight’s show opens with Gettin’ Some Fun Out Of Life from her debut album.  Hello Babe from her latest album, Secular Hymns is reimagined as a phone conversation between Peyroux and Donald Trump which sees bassist Barak Mori articulate Trump’s typically truculent side of the conversation during his solo. Both Mori and guitarist Jon Herington provide superb accompaniment throughout the evening; when Herington is not playing with Peyroux,  one of his other gigs is as Steely Dan’s lead guitarist which probably tells you as much as need to know about his abilities.

As well as singing, Peyroux acts as the third part of a trio, providing a more than capable contribution on acoustic guitar and a slightly larger than ukelele-sized six string; “This is where I normally say that I’d like to play a little guitar for you” she deadpans.  An irony-soaked version of Lennon and McCartney’s Getting Better, with the emphasis very much on its “It can’t get much worse” aspect provides another pointed comment on the recent US election.   Tom Waits’ Tango ‘Till They’re Sore is given a sedately swinging rendition driven by Barak’s bowed bass.  Next up,  Peyroux showcases another of her talents, her own songwriting.  Her own Our Lady Of Pigalle is fit company for any of the songs played here tonight.

Unsurprisingly, the set list draws on tracks from the new album.  Shout Sister Shout is dedicated to the ladies in the audience.  The gentlemen in the audience have the good grace not to take offence at the line: “There’s a reason for a mole, a reason for a dimple, but there ain’t no reason why a man’s so simple”.  Linton Kwesi Johnson’s More Time is a brave choice to cover given that the vocal in the original has no melody, but Peyroux has added just enough in to make it work.

Following a brief acoustic section which gives Mori and Herrington a break and Peyroux another chance to dazzle on guitar, we are into the final section of the concert.  Allan Toussaint’s Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) is funky indeed and Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love is as beautiful and stately as it should be.  Willie Dixon’s If The Sea Was Whiskey seduces like a fifteen year old malt.  Things take a surprising turn when two lines into Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart, Madeleine stops singing, her hands beginning to worry at her clothing.  Mori and Herington keep playing but she tells them that they are going to have to start this one again.  Second time round she once again gets to the second line before becoming visibly upset and calling a halt to the song, simultaneously crying and laughing at herself for crying.  “We are going to have to do something else” she says and there follows a call to the audience for requests.  Careless Love, the title song from her second album is decided upon and given a lovely treatment.  At the start of the encore, Madeleine tells us that she owes us an explanation: An old friend who had taken her under his wing when she was starting her singing career in Paris had died recently and the Zevon song was for him.  It seems that she’s not ready to sing it yet.  When the time comes,  the audience that get to hear it will be privileged indeed.

John Scott

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