Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is a great record in spite of itself. Those cloying Marty Paich strings, together with what is surely the whitest chorus ever assembled behind an R&B artist, helped make it the second-biggest pop hit of 1962. But, lifted out of the sticky morass, it is the raw ache of Charles’ vocal that defines the track’s power and glory. Endless versions have followed, including renditions by Basie and Sinatra. Madeleine Peyroux, opting for more wistful disconsolation and staying truer to the tune’s country roots, is the first to truly rival the bruised magnificence of brother Ray.
Guided by producer Larry Klein, with legitimately enriching string arrangements courtesy of Vince Mendoza, Peyroux is in part paying tribute to Charles’ landmark Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, with equally poignant treatments of “Born to Lose,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” “Take These Chains From My Heart” (which actually hailed from his second Country and Western excursion) and a wonderfully loose, meandering “Bye Bye Love.”
Within a masterful unit that also includes pianist and organist Larry Goldings, drummer Jay Bellerose, guitarist Dean Parks and bassist David Piltch, Peyroux rounds out her playlist with an eclectic olio of delights. Her “Gentle on My Mind” is infused with pensive gentleness, her rendering of Warren Zevon’s “Desperados Under the Eaves” is gorgeously misty, and her “Bird on the Wire” is a marvel of tender reflection. And she proves herself an enchanting honky-tonk angel on the self-affirming Buddy Holly rarity “Changing All Those Changes.”