First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2009, Volume 16, #6
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Mon June 8, 2009, 05:30 AM CDT
In many ways, there is very little to distinguish Bare Bones, Madeleine Peyroux’s fourth album, from any of her previous releases. Once again, her instantly recognizable, Billie Holiday-infused vocals have been placed front-and-center, and she also is backed by a sympathetic band that never threatens to upstage her. If one were content simply to listen to Bare Bones in the background, it would be difficult to find anything exceptional within any of the set’s 11 tracks. At times, the whole effort sounds so innocuous that it’s no wonder every Starbucks in the world seems to have it playing constantly.
Yet, there is more to Bare Bones than meets the ear. It’s true that Peyroux still embraces the faux-bohemian coffeehouse sound of her earlier endeavors. This time, however, she has written or co-written all of the songs. While it’s impossible to compete with Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, and Bob Dylan — all of whose work she has interpreted in the past — it is to her credit that she has stepped out of their shadows to be judged on her own terms. Thankfully, her compositions are, for the most part, rather good. They not only seem to reflect the genuine experiences of her life, but they also complement the kind of romanticized, fin-de-siecle gloominess that typically has characterized her recordings.
Bare Bones is filled with tales of betrayal and love gone wrong. For the first time, however, Peyroux has stretched beyond her comfort zone. Escaping from the carefully constructed vocal style of her previous efforts, she sings her new material with an air of immediacy. Peyroux sounds as if she has been through a lot, and she often seems to want to set the record straight with her confessional songs that cut close to the bone, even if they are sometimes marred by a clumsy word or phrase.
This emphasis in her material shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has read the music gossip columns in recent years, where Peyroux has been something of a fixture. She was a teenage busker in Paris, and after Careless Love became a modest hit, she suffered a breakdown that caused her to vanish on the eve of a European tour. She appears to have overcome whatever fear of success she previously had harbored, and with Bare Bones, she clearly declares her intention to be taken seriously as an artist. To this end, she has chosen to work, once again, with Larry Klein, whose low-key production style has been responsible for creating her signature sound. His bass playing establishes a warm bottom-end around which the drum and guitar accompaniments can dance. Tasteful instrumental contributions from pianist Jim Beard and guitarist Walter Becker come together to forge a musical backdrop that is appealing, if not exactly groundbreaking.
The best songs on Bare Bones include the introspective Instead as well as the revealing — and decidedly Cohen-esque — River of Tears. Elsewhere, Our Lady of Pigalle pays tribute to Peyroux’s days in Paris, and it effectively juxtaposes the love of the Virgin Mary with the heat of desire. The bottom line, though, is that Bare Bones is merely a transitional album for Peyroux. She acknowledges the approach that has served her well. Yet, she also has tried to push herself forward by writing her own material. To create a truly memorable recording, however, Peyroux must take more risks and explore a wider sonic range. With any luck, Bare Bones will be the beginning of a journey to express herself more freely. ½
Of Further Interest...
Bare Bones is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box