Madeleine Peyroux

Review and pictures by John Watson

Madeleine Peyroux at Town Hall, Birmingham (Photo © John Watson/

Madeleine Peyroux at Town Hall, Birmingham (Photo © John Watson/

Town Hall, Birmingham UK

“I don’t have a reputation for doing anything cheerful,” Madeleine Peyroux told her audience, with a grin. “But I’m working on breaking that mould.”

I like the texture of her voice enormously, and for the most part I like her style and the songs she chooses to sing. I love her sense of humour (she had some splendid digs at Donald Trump).

But I have yet to enjoy a complete Peyroux album or concert, and the reason is simple: she offers too little contrast, particularly in the pace of her songs, almost all delivered at a medium plod. At Town Hall on Monday she did lift the rhythmic pace a little with the Lennon-McCartney classic Getting Better, but she didn’t sing it very well.

But her fans adore her, and her new album Secular Hymns has won extensive critical praise, so I’m part of an unenthusiastic minority. The album was recorded in a village church in Oxfordshire, and her excellent accompanists on the disc are with her on her current tour: guitarist Jon Herington and double bassist Barak Mori. They also provide some appealing backing vocals.

The album tracks feature her versions of songs from a wide range of sources: Leonard Cohen, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Tom Waits, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Allen Toussaint and many more. Her concert performance did have some strong highlights, among them Cohen’s Bird On A Wire, and Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More.

I just wish that someone with so much talent, and who is so expressive, would do what most singers find obvious: mix the tempos, and constantly surprise the listener.

But the support act did offer surprise: the exceptionally able trumpeter Sean Gibbs presented appealing duets on standard songs with pianist Stella Roberts. Surprising, because I’m more familiar with Gibbs’ work as a very gifted composer and conductor of the adventurous Birmingham Jazz Orchestra. That he can also be so confident in the straight-swing world of standards is admirable.

Categories: Live review

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1 reply

  1. Perhaps she needs a producer who will challenge and stretch her a little? That said I rather like her new album. There’s a lot of spirituality in that woman. But when it comes offering “too little contrast, particularly in the pace of her songs” you should go and hear the frustratingly beautiful voice that is Rumer. Or possibly not.

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