It’s really hard to write about music when a fascist dictatorship is underway, but it’s really one of the only things keeping me stable these days. So here we go. Madeleine Peyroux is a jazz musician from the US. She lived for some time in both Brooklyn and Southern California before the age of thirteen, but was mostly raised in Paris. She started singing and performing as early as fifteen years of age, releasing her debut album Dreamland by the age of twenty-two. She is relatively commercially successful, mostly in Europe; although her albums rarely crack the top twenty in many charts, she is consistently prevalent in such charts to some degree across her entire career.
“You Can’t Do Me” is actually a single that comes off the heels of a decline in popularity, sometime after her second album Careless Love, which sold over a million copies worldwide. The latter album consists of mostly covers, but the best of the bunch – or at least the one that piqued my interest the most – is her cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”. Now, I’m a pretty big Cohen fan (still in mourning) and covers of his songs don’t often appeal to me much, mostly because I usually find myself wishing I were listening to his original instead. Yet, Peyroux brings a special kind of charm to the mix here, replacing Cohen’s supremely 80s production with something lighter and more modern. Her backing band is fabulous, especially the pianos and bass, and her voice has the husky, wine-soaked quality akin to Billie Holiday, which I love to hear in jazz performances. It’s a neat, delicate arrangement that softens the harsh undertones of the original in such impressive, artistic ways.
The single in question for this post, however, comes from her fourth album Bare Bones, which went to number one on the jazz charts. From an initial comparative listen between “Dance Me” and this one, there are certainly some noticeable enhancements to the sonic stylings. A cleaner, denser production and a slightly funkier, more upbeat energy in this single makes this sound less like a coffeehouse jazz single and more like a pop-jazz effort, kind of like Norah Jones’ recordings. Through its slinky piano and organ combo running throughout the track, Peyroux presents a call to action against a cheating lover to whom she refuses to continue to subject herself. The highlights of the song come with the series of interestingly chosen similes Peyroux has chosen to express her heartache. Some of these phrases (“Burnt like an Arkansas griddlecake”, “Harpooned in a Melville sailor yard”, “Unglued like a bull in a china shop”) certainly work much better than others (“Screwed like a high school cheerleader”, “Bust like an internet millionaire”, “Sued like a teenage downloader”). Nonetheless, the picture as a whole is an eccentric one that is pretty enjoyable to listen to if only for the strangeness of its format.
I guess I appreciate Peyroux’s vocal performance her, partially for the fact that she no longer sounds like she’s trying to be Billie Holiday. She adds her own little vocal inflections to several of the more unconventional lines that I think demonstrates her comfortability with her style. Listening to this track makes me feel like she’d be a blast to watch in a live performance. Seeing that she just released a new album this past year, this might actually be a possibility if she were ever in my area! Anyway, this is a pretty decent song. While the sacrifice of face beauty in replacement of something electric and humorous is a tad disappointing at first, it’s easy to fall into the comfort zone that Peyroux so effectively emits here, especially when she sounds so damn confident with her material.