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Madeleine Peyroux - Secular Hymns / theartsdesk review

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Madeleine Peyroux made her name channeling Billie Holiday. White stars have never ceased to model themselves on African-American genius – Mick Jagger on Don Covay, Rod Stewart on Sam Cooke and Joe Cocker on Ray Charles. The resemblance is often uncanny, and yet there is always something missing - call it authenticity, roughness or soul. Peyroux has grown away from Lady Day, and found her own voice, but the jazz and blues that characterize most of the covers she sings with great skill and feeling, don't quite have the edge of the originals.

And yet, black vocalists have been as attracted to the smooth of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra or George Jones, as their white counterparts driven to play with gospel melisma or ecstatic shouting. There is a dialogue and cross-fertilisation that keeps American music lively, and Peyroux belongs right there in the middle, sultry cabaret chanteuse with shades of late-night jazz and the endemic melancholy of the blues. But this is blues lite, too clean for comfort.

Her latest album is stripped down, without the more sophisticated production that has characterised her previous six. Alone with guitarist Jon Herington, who plays eloquently with a minimum of well-chosen notes, and the upright bass of Barak Mori, who swings with smooth elasticity, she was recorded in a 12th-century church in Oxfordshire, with a small audience. The intimacy of the setting suits the simplicity of her material well. This generally accomplished collection of covers is let down by a uniformity of mood, evoked with Peyroux's usual sensitivity, but the dark hues that dominate are not relieved by the sweet romance that characterised some of the standout material of her earlier recording      SEE theartsdesk PAGE