The first thing that strikes you about MADELEINE PEYROUX'S new album, 'Secular Hymns,' isn't the Georgia singer's gorgeous, honey-toned voice or the captivating vulnerability of her emotional delivery - though these two qualities are certainly evident in abundance - but rather, her music's sense of space and the conspicuous absence of a rhythm track. Indeed, drums are off the musical menu for the chanteuse's seventh long player - which is also her first for the reactivated jazz label, Impulse! - with Madeleine preferring a stripped-down trio sound (two guitars and a stand-up bass) - over an ensemble with an orthodox rhythm section.
"A lot of people think of drums as being absolutely essential to most music," explains the 42-year-old French-American singer/songwriter, who delivers the whole album in the company of long-time collaborators, Steely Dan guitarist Jon Herington and bass player Barak Mori. "I think perhaps because I played music on the street without the luxury of having a drum kit was part of the attraction of this approach," Madeleine says, alluding to her teenage years before she had a recording contract when she busked her way around Europe. "I feel like there's a lot more musical freedom with just the three of us and there's something very important to get from that intention of the beat without it actually being expressed - and maybe it's also the fact that having a sense of rubato and silence is more musical in a way."
Clearly, the album's ambience is also an intimate one, with Madeleine putting her own distinctive spin on songs from a variety of sources - there are blues tunes (ranging from Joe Greer's 1952 R&B hit, 'Got You On My Mind' to Willie Dixon's 'If The Sea Was Whiskey' and Sister Rosetta Tharpe's 'Shout Sister Shout') to songs by Townes Van Zandt ('The Highway Kind'), Tom Waits ('Tango Till They're Sore') and Allen Toussaint ('Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky [From Now On]'). Intriguingly, Madeleine also covers Caribbean dub poet Lynton Kwesi Johnson's 'More Time' and turns her voice to interpreting 19th century American songwriter Stephen Foster's 'Hard Times Come Again No More,' which was written over 150 years old but whose message still has a profound resonance for denizens of the 21st century. It's an eclectic mix of material but without doubt the unifying factor is Madeleine's unique interpretations.
Despite its emphasis on American songs, 'Secular Hymns' was actually recorded in a 12th century Norman church (St Mary the Virgin) in deepest rural Oxfordshire, England - the result of a chance visit to the village of Great Milton - and represents the singer's debut as a producer. Defined by a minimalistic, rootsy approach, the new album is a far cry sonically from the lush, orchestral opulence of her last studio album, 2013's Larry Klein-helmed 'The Blue Room,' which just from a logistical and pragmatic perspective means that 'Secular Hymns' is a far easier - and less expensive - project to tour and promote.
For those wishing to catch Madeleine and her trio in concert, the singer starts touring in November and lands in the UK on Sunday 20th of that month, when she plays the Royal Festival Hall as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. A day later, on the 21st November, she can be seen at Birmingham's Symphony Hall and then on November 30th at Saffron Hall in Essex.
In an animated chat with SJF's Charles Waring, the singer talked in detail about 'Secular Hymns' and the musicians that helped shape it...
Last Updated on Thursday, 17 November 2016 17:34