Recorded in a small church in the Oxfordshire countryside of England, Madeleine Peyroux's new album "Secular Hymns" is a collection of secular songs she describes "that are very individual, personal, introverted." Accompanied by her touring band-mates of the last two years -electric guitarist Jon Herington and upright bassist Barak Mori, she revisits tunes by seminal blues artists Willie Dixon and Lil Green, classic gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, dub reggae innovator Linton Kwesi Johnson, contemporary craftsmen Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Allen Toussaint, 19th century American giant Stephen Foster, and an early African-American spiritual.
She has certainly evolved from being a Billie Holiday imitator first with a low-key introverted take on a R&B classic "Got You on My Mind," followed by a bit more melodramatic attack on Tom Waits' "Tango Till They're Sore," with Herington's guitar and Mori's Arco bass adding to the drama of the performance. Townes Van Zandt's "The Highway Kind" is a more reflective tune with Herington more in a folk guitar mode, while Allen Toussaint's "Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Funky" benefits from the swampy-sounding backing.
The varied repertoire includes Stephen Foster's lament, "Hard Times Come Again No More", the playful Lil Green blues "Hello Babe," the reggae groove of Linton Kwesi Johnson's "More Time" with its lyrics of wanting more time for pleasure and leisure if things are really getting better, a spritely rendition of one of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's most famous songs, "Shout Sister Shout," before this unusual collection of mostly contemporary songs closes with a traditional spiritual "Tampin." It is a lovely performance that ends this very charming recording that displays Peyroux has become s singer of considerable appeal with the splendid support of her band-mates.
I received a download for review purposes from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 369). There have been a few stylistic edits made to that review. Here is a sample of this recording.