Madeleine Peyroux - Biography
By J Poet
Madeleine Peyroux has been blessed, or cursed, with constant comparisons to Billie Holiday due to her subtle phrasing and bluesy delivery, but Peyroux has her own unique kind of low-key charm.
Peyroux was born in Athens, GA in 1974, to hippie parents. The family moved to Brooklyn, then Hollywood, so her father could take acting jobs. When her parents divorced, she moved to Paris with her mother. She loved folk, country, blues and jazz, and despised school. She was sent to a British boarding school, but dropped out and returned to her mother’s Paris apartment.
Peyroux started singing on the streets of Paris when she was 15, with a band called the Riverboat Shufflers, already delving into blues and classic American pop tunes. Her school attendance was spotty and she finally dropped out before graduating to become singer and front woman of The Lost Wandering Blues and Jazz Band. She spent almost four years wandering Europe with the band, singing jazz tunes and standards. They had few formal gigs, but playing on the street honed her stage presence and delivery. At 17 she was singing on New York City street corners and jazz clubs. Atlantic Records executive Yves Beauvais was impressed and offered her a deal, but she turned down him down and went back to Paris.
Beauvais visited her periodically in Paris, and she finally agreed to make an album. Dreamland (1996 Atlantic) featured an all star backing band - Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Leon Parker, drums; Vernon Reid and Marc Ribot on guitar; James Carter, sax - that provided subtle backing for her almost somnambulant vocals. Her three self penned tunes, “Always a Use,” “Hey Sweet Man,” and the title track, were solid and marked her as a major talent. The album sold 200,000 copies making it a major hit for a jazz flavored album.
Peyroux’s gigs to support the album got the kind of glowing press most artists only dream of. She opened shows for Sarah McLachlan and Cesaria Evora, and joined the Lilith Fair; she was working on her second Atlantic album when she vanished. She went back to singing on the streets, had vocal cord surgery, moved to Nashville, waited tables and sang occasionally. In 2002 she performed as a duo with William Galison and made an EP called Got You on My Mind to sell at shows. It was later expanded to CD length and released by Waking Up Music in 2004. The set is bare bones, featuring Peyroux’s luminous vocals, Galison’s fine guitar and harmonica work, and three more Peyroux originals. The album brought her to the attention of Rounder; the label put out Careless Love, in September 2004. Careless Love was produced by Larry Klein and earned more rave reviews for its sparse arrangements and Peyroux’s burnished singing. The album slowly went gold.
Her live dates won more stellar reviews and she followed up with Half the Perfect World (2006 Rounder) another collection of smoky, heart wrenching material posed between hope and despair. It included a duet with k. d. lang on the Joni Mitchell tune “River” and four more originals including “California Rain” and “I’m All Right,” a song full of deadpan irony. A new album, Bare Bones (Rounder) came along in 2009, followed by Standing On The Rooftop (2011) and The Blue Room (2013).