Dreamland by Madeleine Peyroux
The degree to which this 23-year old French-American singer is able to appropriate the harrowing vulnerability of Billie Holiday is both scandalous and exciting. Holiday's melancholy was a distinctive, multitiered melodrama, full of defiance and yearning, heroic compassion, painful wisdom, and willful self-destruction. Peyroux, on tunes ranging from her own "Hey Sweet Man" to the vintage Fats Waller hit "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," nails most of it, leaving us to ponder whether she has emotional depths similar to Holiday's, or just a knack for immaculate forgery.
Either way, the conception and execution of Dreamland makes for an enthralling collection of tunes. Backing Peyroux on another old standard, "Muddy Water," is a dream team of musicians that include her Atlantic jazz labelmates Cyrus Chestnut on piano and James Carter on bass clarinet, plus Vernon Reid strumming spindly electric guitar chords, along with bassist Steve Kirby and Leon Parker on cymbals. On a remake of the spritzy Ziegfield Follies shuffle "Was I?," the instrumentation includes banjo, accordion, and violin. There's an atmospheric cover of Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" anchored by Charlie Giordano's B-3 organ, and a subtle rendition of Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose." Though the last two contain echoes of Holiday's style, they depart from the late jazz singer's usual turf, and Peyroux's own compositions generally stray even further. Her recent roots as a busker in the streets of Paris are in evidence on the folk-oriented "Always A Use," while the title track is a swirling pop tune with a kinship to the melodicism of Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" and Gary Lewis and the Playboys's "Everybody Loves A Clown." That Dreamland still feels of a piece throughout its disparate tunes indicates that Peyroux is a formidable talent--one who can make the most exalted and exacting homages reflect the rustlings of her own soul.
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