Monday, October 16, 2006

Half the Perfect World/Blue Alert

Once you get past the Billie Holiday thing you’ll be fine. Madeleine Peyroux’s voice sounds…in timbre and delivery…a lot like Lady Day’s. It is not, I think, an affectation…it is, rather, just the way her sweet, husky, beguiling voice sounds and I’m more than cool with that.

As always her choice of material is eclectic and excellent and the arrangements she couches the songs in are soothing, rapturous, and mighty fine. Here she takes Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” (a hit for Harry Nilsson) on a slow, loping stroll and she sails through a languid version of Johnny Mercer’s “The Summer Wind” with an aplomb that would have brought an appreciative nod from Frank Sinatra.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” is given shimmering new life in a lovely duet with K.D. Lang (featuring some amazing piano work by Sam Yahel) and the collection also includes fine versions of Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”.

The original songs, all co-written by Peyroux, more than hold their own with the covers…especially the impish “I’m All Right” (co-written with producer Larry Klein and Steely Dan’s Walter Becker), the delicate and wistful “Once in a While”, and the percolating “A Little Bit”.

Two of the songs on this collection…the lilting, melancholy title track and the softly soulful “Blue Alert”…were written by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas for an album released earlier in the year (see below). Half the Perfect World is a lovely, jazzy, utterly engaging CD.

Anjani’s Blue Alert is a luminous collaboration with master songwriter Leonard Cohen (who produced the record.) Anjani was given access to some unfinished Cohen poems, journals, and lyrics and she completed them with the consent and aid of the master (Anjani, a singer-songwriter in her own right, has recorded and toured with Cohen…her ethereal and moving vocals were featured on his classic “Hallelujah”.)

You can’t help but hear Cohen’s distinctive voice in the phrasing and the moody poetic imagery of these songs but Anjani’s rich, buttery, soulfully torchy vocals still manage to take the forefront with grace and muted (but still powerful) passion. Where Peyroux is supported by a talented ensemble on her record, most of the tracks on Anjani’s disc are supported mostly by her own evocative piano (with a hint of baritone sax here and a bit of clarinet, steel guitar, and drums there and some delicately layered vocals here and there.)

In a better world, magical songs like the enchanting "Thanks for the Dance" would be in regular rotation on the radio...but it's not a better world (and more's the pity for that.)

Of the two songs shared by both discs: Anjani’s sweetly-earnest version of “Half the Perfect World” gets a slight edge over Peyroux’s version while Madeleine’s rhythmic “Blue Alert” get the slight edge on Anjani’s…but it’s all apples and oranges…you’re in wonderful musical company either way with either version...and, for that matter, with either of these lovely collections.

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