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Review: Peyroux explores rootsier sound on new CD

Madeleine Peyroux, “Standing on the Rooftop” (Emarcy/Decca)

Madeleine Peyroux impressed on her 1996 debut “Dreamland” singing early jazz and blues standards with a tone uncannily reminiscent of Billie Holiday, re-emerged as an innovative interpreter of more contemporary fare by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and others on 2004’s best-selling “Careless Love” and established herself as a songwriter on “Bare Bones” (2009) with all original material.

“Standing on the Rooftop” finds her exploring new sounds, working with a new producer, Craig Street (Norah Jones, k.d. lang), and new songwriting partners, including ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot and country-inspired jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman. She goes for an edgier, rootsier Americana sound that is less overtly jazz oriented, adding guests such as pianist Allen Toussaint and bassist Me’shell Ndegeocello.

The covers include a recast “Martha My Dear” that turns the whimsical Beatles song into a slower, reflective romance tune with Peyroux’s soft vocals backed by Ribot’s folksy banjo plucking, while her haunting version of blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” has a menacing, rumbling backdrop of violin, guitars and keyboards.

Highlights among the originals include the title track, with tense interplay between Peyroux’s laid-back vocals and Ribot’s throbbing electric guitar riffs; “The Things I’ve Seen Today,” co-written with Scheinman, with its twangy guitar sounding like the theme to an old Western; and the whimsical “Don’t Pick a Fight With a Poet,” about the pen being mightier than the sword, with a bouncy strummed guitar accompaniment. There are some misses, such as the extremely slow-paced “Fickle Dove” and the meandering “Meet Me In Rio.”

Peyroux’s fans should find much to admire on this album by an artist whose creative drive won’t allow her to settle into any predictable comfort zone.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: “The Kind You Can’t Afford,” co-written with Wyman, is a playful upbeat tune that matches witty lyrics with shuffling, funky guitar and bass lines.

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