Madeleine Peyroux’s extraordinary journey is one of music industryâs most compelling.
Eight albums and 22 years since her debut Dreamland, Peyroux continues to challenge the confines of jazz, venturing into the fertile fields of contemporary music with unfading curiosity.
Peyrouxâs new album, Anthem, finds the singer-songwriter collaborating with writers/musicians Patrick Warren (Bonnie Raitt, JD Souther, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Lana Del Rey, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Brian MacLeod (Sara Bareilles, Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, Ziggy Marley) and David Baerwald (Joni Mitchell, David and David, Sheryl Crow), who are also the basic rhythm section players on the album. Together, they cast a sober, poetic, and at times philosophical eye on the current state of the world.
Produced and co-written by Larry Klein, the album came to life during the pivotal 2016 US elections, with the writers absorbing a âconstant stream of newsâ over many months. The âconsciously not too preachyâ songs, fuse Peyrouxâs, at times political outlook, with glimpses into her personal world. Honed and patiently refined with fellow writers they mix the public with the personal, striking that perfect equilibrium of dark humour and compassion.
Anthem is an album born out of the team being âtogether in one room, musing over world events and letting personal experiences spark ideasâ. David Baerwaldâs sadness over the passing of poet John Ashbery, ignited thoughts of much admired figures lost over the years and paved the path for All My Heroes. Baerwaldâs loss gave rise to feelings of awe at these figuresâ trailblazing ability to guide and âlight fires in the shadowsâ, but also brought to light their very human vulnerability.
Inspiration for the evocative Lullaby, written by Baerwald, Klein, MacLeod, Peyroux and Warren, came from âthe image of a solitary woman in the midst of a vast open sea singing to her child, or possibly herself, as she faces the chasm of the world.â With engaging empathy, the song paints a haunting picture of the displaced personâs desperation, as she is tormented by memories of âa time before the warâ, in a boat paddling towards the unknown.
Anthem weaves the colourful stories of people confronting life’s challenges in a multitude of ways. With pathos and a hint of irony it laments over financial tribulations in Down On Me, speaks of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams in theÂ bluesy Ghosts of Tomorrow andÂ delivers a scathingly poignant social commentary in The Brand New Deal. Coming ten years after Bare Bones, the singer-songwriterâs previous album of original songs, Anthem finds Peyroux wiser with finer articulation powers. Inspired by her idol Leonard Cohenâs ability to âsuffer for the work, but still present the listener with just a friendly thoughtâ, Peyroux sends a spiritual but clear message of hope, optimism and resilience in the face of a turbulent reality.
There are two covers in this album. Paul Eluardâs WW2 poem LibertĂ©, and the title track, Leonard Cohenâs monumental Anthem, which also marks Peyrouxâs third interpretation of the iconic poetâs work.
Soon becoming Peyrouxâs âpersonal anthemâ, Cohenâs soulful masterpiece âtied together all the stories on the recordâ, with uncanny relevance and topical worldly observation.
It was Cohenâs astonishing ability to tap into the human psyche and âmake you think about things without forcing you into itâ, that was the underlying thread throughout the project, leading to a more fluid style of writing, âthat is about saying something rather than saying everything.â
Anthemâs lighter tunes include On My Own and On A Sunday Afternoon and 70âs sounding Party Tyme which âhas some darkness to it.â
A key track on the album is Paul Eluardâs poem LibertĂ© which came to Peyrouxâs attention when a family friend requested she contribute a song to the documentary On the Tips of Oneâs Toes (Sur La Pointe des Pieds), telling the story of her gravely ill son and the family dealing with his fatal illness (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy). A well-known poem in France and recently set to music by French rocker Marc Lavoine, âLibertĂ© was already in the air following the Paris terror attackâ.Â It came up for Peyroux and Klein as they were trying to put music to a sequence in the documentary showing the young boy going on daily outings and activities. It evoked questions about the parentsâ ordeal of âliving with the knowledge that their son will not live a full lifeâ, and triggered thoughts of âlifeâs greatest questions about mortality, overcoming adversity and manâs place in the grand scheme of thingsâ.
The 21-verse poem was edited down to fit the albumâs format and its stanzas adapted, before Peyroux and Klein wrote their original composition.Â Delivered in French and encompassing the entire human experience, LibertĂ© begins with the lines âOn my school notebooks, On my school desk and the treesâ, to convey the essence of childhood and growing up. It goes on to touch on adulthood, romantic loneliness, and the many facets of human life, before finally speaking of illness, death and recovery.Â âWith every verse Eluard mentions different places, imaginary and real where he would write ‘the nameâ but the name itself remains a mystery until the all revealing last line âI was born to know you, To name you, Libertyâ. Under Kleinâs sensitive production, the arresting poem assumes an enchanting folksy simplicity, with only Kleinâs acoustic guitar and Warrenâs atmospheric synth strings to accompany Peyrouxâs mesmerising voice.
Anthem is Peyrouxâs âbiggest project to dateâ, with the artist investing many months of hands-on involvement in the studio, âexploring processed sounds and editing in post tracking. Special in that it was written with the group of musicians/writers who also played on it, âthis album was about discovering the original songs as they were being recordedâ and mastering the courage to âlet the songs choose their own path.âÂ The new album includes several songs bearing Peyrouxâs distinctive, instantly recognizable style including On My Own and Sunday afternoon, but Anthemâs spirit was that of exploring new styles whilst resting safe in the knowledge that âif you are loyal to yourself, there should always be a thread running through your music.â