Madeleine Peyroux took eight long years to follow up her acclaimed 1996 debut, Dreamland. While her website claims non-chalantly that she "took a breather," it still amounts to a courageous act. Careless Love was produced by Larry Klein who hired some heavy hitters for these sessions; they include Larry Goldings, Scott Amendola, David Piltch, and Dean Parks.
Even on first listen, Careless Love appears more focused than its predecessor. Klein's sense of restraint seeks subtler adventures in presenting Peyroux's voice and remarkable phrasing. The material is a curious collection of modern pop songs, country tunes, old nuggets, and the original, "Don't Wait Too Long," co-written with Klein and Jesse Harris. Peyroux's opening read of Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" is radical, it's still presented as a cabaret song, but deliberately lacks the drama of the original; instead, her tender annunciation draws closer attention to the powerful emotion in its lyric.
Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" portrays the song's object as physically and emotionally present, to the delighted protagonist who knows sadness is approaching. Parks' guitar playing is sparse but physical; Amendola's brushwork complements Jay Bellerose's spare cymbal and tom-tom work, and Goldings' grooving organ and piano. The hinge track is Peyroux's version of Elliiot Smith's "Between The Bars" introduced by taut sonic ambience whispering in the backdrop, as Goldings' celeste underscores the atmospherics with a haunted groove. Amendola's brushes whisper and shimmer, allowing the singer to explore the lyric's devastatingly melancholic depths. The skeletal, ghostly treatment given Hank Williams' "Weary Blues" floats free of its country trappings. The band surround Peyroux's voice with uptown blues. Likewise, the title track, a standard composed by W.C. Handy, weds the sensual swing of Saturday R&B to Sunday morning gospel sway. Driven by B-3 organ and Rhodes piano, Parks adds dirty, spidery guitar, allowing Peyroux to seemingly swim inside the lyric, as it slowly and sensuously drips from her mouth. In choosing Klein for Careless Love -- one of the most empathetic producers of female vocalists -- Peyroux understood what was at stake in returning after such a long break. In the interim she's become a more confident, chancy, and commanding singer. She gets inside lyrics fully; she embraces her accompaniment as an aid in their expression rather than as merely a support vehicle. Balance that with the choice of material, and this set easily avoids the "sophomore jinx," and rises head and shoulders above the accomplishment presented on her debut.