Madeleine Peyroux

Standing on the Rooftop

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In 2009, Madeleine Peyroux issued Bare Bones, her first recording of all-original material with producer Larry Klein and a small group of jazz musicians and co-composers. Standing on the Rooftop is her debut recording for Decca with producer Craig Street. The group of players here is a diverse lot: drummer Charlie Drayton, guitarists Christopher Bruce and Marc Ribot, bassist Me'Shell Ndegeocello; John Kirby, Glenn Patscha, and Patrick Warren alternate on keyboards, percussionist Mauro Refosco, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and Allen Toussaint guests on piano. The program is richly and elegantly painted with modern production touches even as its songs are rooted in the historical past of classic Americana: pop songs, blues, jazz, and sitting room tunes. It includes eight originals and four covers, among them a poem by W.H. Auden set to music by Ribot entitled "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love." The music is summery and laid-back. The languid parlor-room reading of "Martha My Dear" by Lennon & McCartney has a deliberate old-timey feel and twins well with "Fickle Dove" (one of two Peyroux tunes written with Scheinman). Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain," with its strange pump organ backdrop and studio echo, indulges the kinds of production tricks Tom Waits might employ in disguising a blues. That said, this song too has a twin of sorts in the sonically similar title track; a clattering rag blues with ambient electronics held in check by Peyroux's elegantly earthy vocal. Ribot's acoustic guitar and Toussaint's upright on the Auden poem give the singer a perfectly loose frame to create a song inside. The thin, lean, funky blues on "The Kind You Can't Afford" (co-written with former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman) and Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" are both slow shuffles and high points. In the latter, Peyroux's voice shifts the lyric's meaning to where the implied bitterness gives way to bewilderment. The album's final three cuts, "Meet Me in Rio," "Ophelia," and "The Way of All Things" make fine use of Peyroux's jazz chops; and because of Street's production, make an exact time-space continuum wonderfully imprecise. As an album, Standing on the Rooftop may not be as striking as its predecessor, but perhaps it wasn't meant to be. It is a seemingly effort that pushes the familiar toward an uncertain future where pop genres cease to need to exist at all.

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