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Madeleine Peyroux: Secular Hymns

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It took a village for Madeleine Peyroux to shape this latest album, her seventh and Verve debut. Invited to perform in the tiny British burg of Little Milton, Peyroux found herself inside St. Mary the Virgin, a 12th-century Norman-styled church, for a sound check. “It was amazing the way my voice sounded in the cavernous room,” she notes in press materials. “It has a wood ceiling that gave my voice a reverb.” She subsequently requested permission to record inside the ancient space.

As for the title, Peyroux explains that, for herself and trio-mates Jon Herington (electric guitar) and Barak Mori (bass), “music is our spiritual life, so I think of these as hymns, secular hymns-songs that are very individual, personal, introverted.” The 10-track playlist blends works by or associated with Stephen Foster and gospel legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe with songs from blues giants Lil Green and Willie Dixon and such modern masters as Tom Waits and Allen Toussaint.

It is a marvelous mélange, starting out “sad and low” with Dixon’s downtrodden “Got You on My Mind,” then zigzagging in various fascinating directions: a sorcerous take on Waits’ “Tango Till They’re Sore”; a gently propulsive version of Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky”; a stirringly reflective reading of Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More”; a coy treatment of Green’s “Hello Babe,” reminiscent of Peggy Lee; an ebullient shimmy through “Shout, Sister, Shout,” a Tharpe favorite. Peyroux closes with a mellow, hypnotic treatment of the early African-American spiritual “Trampin’,” wrapping a deeply satisfying, enthralling set.

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