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Madeleine Peyroux: Standing on the Rooftop

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Ever since Madeleine Peyroux exploded onto the scene in 2004, the comparisons to Billie Holiday have been nonstop. There’s no denying the similarity, or the tear that is ever-present in her voice. As was frequently the case with Holiday, Peyroux’s vocal style has often led to wrongful perception of her as a tragedian. She can play woe-begotten to perfection, here best demonstrated with her soul-crushing descent into Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain.” But her emotional range fully extends from downtrodden (a wearily pensive treatment of Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away”) to downright dreamy (the gentle lullaby “Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love,” adapted from an Auden poem).

More important, Standing on the Rooftop marks Peyroux’s emergence as a deft, artful songwriter. Eight of the 12 selections were written or co-written by her. Whether singing of love’s vagaries (the “Skylark”-esque “Fickle Dove”) or intense passion (“Meet Me in Rio”), waxing philosophical (the pen-is-mightier anthem “Don’t Pick a Fight With a Poet” and the easy-flowing “Ophelia”) or charting a rocky voyage into self-discovery on the title track, Peyroux’s richly detailed life sketches are acutely profound. But it’s her sprightly “The Kind You Can’t Afford,” written with Bill Wyman, that most deserves the sort of airplay she earned with Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” seven years ago.

Originally Published