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Madeleine Peyroux plays Royal Festival Hall / LondonJazz review

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Although Madeleine Peyroux doesn't really need one, certainly not amongst the packed out concert hall of super fans last night, she was nevertheless given a nice introduction. Coined here as "Queen of the unhurried" - a term I found particularly inspired - and an unparalleled songstress who is a strong believer in the power of song, she's quoted as having said "Music, song, the voice: this is my spiritual life". Well, after last night's incredible performance, I'm inclined to agree. 

Her new album follows this idea nicely, being entitled Secular Hymns, and takes a wide range of songs written by a variety of big names right from Stephen Foster and Allen Toussaint (whose recent passing must have been of particular poignancy to Madeleine, as he played in the band on her 2011 album Standing on the Rooftop) through to Tom Waits and Linton Kwesi Johnson. As ever, no matter who the composer or what the subject matter, each song - and each lyric within that song - receives the special Peyroux touch, as was clear in her performance last night. 

The set-up of the evening nurtured this intimate, conversational atmosphere. The Royal Festival Hall is certainly a large venue and even the rear choir stalls had been opened up due to high demand for the concert. However, the soft lighting and the simplicity of the trio sitting casually together on stage belied this grandeur and instead made for a really warm, personal experience. Barak Mori on double bass and Jon Herington on guitar were both an important element in the success and conviviality of the gig, and were also given deserved space to let loose. 

As wonderful and integral to the evening as her band-mates were, however, the first time that Peyroux opened a song simply accompanying herself on the guitar - the poignant Bird on the Wire from her album The Blue Rooms - it was so mesmerising that it became clear just how much power she holds all on her own. It wasn't until the others came in that you even realised they weren't playing. She later went on to play several songs by herself and these acoustic versions held a special kind of power that revealed her full talent, for to be able to hold an audience of thousands captive with just a guitar and your voice is really something quite impressive.