Review: Madeleine Peyroux

Simon Hale sees the world-renown singer get the blues.

Madeleine Peyroux
21st November 2016
Birmingham Town Hall

There was more than just a hint of something disturbing Madeleine Peyroux as she stepped on to the stage with the words “And you thought you couldn’t top Brexit”.The French-American jazz and blues singer and guitarist was clearly worried about the US election result as she launched into her concert at Birmingham Town Hall with three of her more downbeat numbers.

When she reached Hello Babe from her new Secular Hymns album, “Donald” was substituted in the title, bringing new meaning to the line “I ain’t going to let you worry my life no more”.

In If the Sea Was Whiskey, a song dedicated to her father “who took Drink Canada Dry literally”, it was “the election”, rather than “these blues”, that “is gonna make me pack my trunk”.

When she came to Careless Love, she described it as “an early birth control contraceptive kind of song that we might have to return to”, alluding no doubt to the President-elect’s views on women’s issues.

“I don’t have a reputation for the cheerful stuff,” Madeleine said, adding (as if her massive following in the hall didn’t know) “I only do three types of songs: love songs, the blues and drinking songs”. What we had however, once the mood was lightened, was a trio of musicians playing together as if they were with family and friends in a living room rather than with a large audience in an auditorium. Madeleine, sounding like Billie Holiday and with the same sincerity, was relaxed enough to indulge in playful banter with electric guitarist John Herington and double bass player Barak Mori between the songs.

The songs themselves, extending across an extraordinarily wide range of genres, were given full justice by the wonderfully sounding perfectly matched threesome. Many were from Secular Hymns like Tom Waits’ Tango Till They’re Sore, Linton Kwesi Johnson’s reggae number More Time, the old Stephen Foster song Hard Times Come Again No More, and the Sister Rosetta Tharpe spiritual Shout, Sister, Shout! which had everyone clapping to the infectious beat.

Madeleine reinforced her standing as an international star with J’ai Deux Amours (I Have Two Loves), her tribute to New York and Paris that she sung in French, and her take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova standard Aqua de Beber (Drinking Water)sung in Portuguese.

Although she didn’t refer to Leonard Cohen’s recent death, she sang his song Dance Me To The End Of Love in a slightly less rhythmic way than her well-known album version. Keep Me In Your Heart, the Warren Zevon valedictory, provided a moving finale, backing up Madeleine’s message for today’s climate that, “When things suck, you’ve got to try to have more fun”.