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Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Be Here to Love Me": Review of Townes Van Zandt Documentary from Archives

From Harp Magazine, 2005

By Steven Rosen

Just the other night, at a small club in Covington, Ky., Ray Wylie Hubbard ended his set with his own reflectively melancholy ballad, “The Messenger.”

When he got to the line “And to the rock and roll gypsies/may the last song you sing/be by Mr. Van Zandt/when you’re down in old Santa Fe,” some heads nodded in understanding. Just another way, I thought, that a shared aesthetic is forming that the late, great Townes Van Zandt represented the highest achievement in blues and roots-music balladry – an inheritor of Woody Guthrie’s and Hank Williams’ legacy.

What’s remarkable about this is that Van Zandt, with his mournful songs and ruggedly somber and lonesome voice, never had much more than a cult following while alive. And awareness of him is still growing. (He died on New Year’s Day, 1997, of heart failure brought on by a lifetime of hard living. He was 52 and had started recording in the late 1960s.)

But that cult included his fellow Texas troubadours (and other kindred spirits) – Hubbard, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris – who wear their affection for him like a Medal of Honor. They continue to spread word of his legacy and the timeless worth of his songs like “Pancho and Lefty,” “To Live’s to Fly,” “Be Here to Love Me,” “Flyin’ Shoes,” and “Waitin’ Around to Die.”

Also spreading the word is Margaret Brown – an Austin-based filmmaker whose new documentary “Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt” is getting a Fall national theatrical release from Palm Pictures.

Poetic and even loving, yet unflinchingly honest when it could have been prosaic and sensationalistic about his life, it does him well. (Brown never knew Van Zandt.)

But then the lanky, dark-haired Van Zandt does himself well in the movie – which includes film of him singing before audiences in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. True, from the old footage and archival interviews amassed by Brown, it’s clear he often could be a self-destructive substance abuser – a heavy smoker hanging out in ramshackle housing with a shotgun and booze always nearby.

But his periods of sobriety were informed by a lucid, haunting frankness. The film’s key moment comes when a calm Van Zandt – looking weary but alert during a 1995 interview – is asked by a journalist why all his songs are so sad. “I have a few that aren’t sad – they’re hopeless,” he replies. “The rest aren’t sad, they’re just the way life goes.”

Then he looks at the (off-camera) interviewer and asks, like a teacher to a na├»ve student, “You don’t think life’s sad?” Waiting a few seconds, he goes on to explain his view of songwriting – and life. “By recognizing sadness you can put it aside, be happy and enjoy the happy side of life. Blues is happy music.”

It is that viewpoint that appealed to filmmaker Brown. “There’s something about hearing people sing songs about despair and heartbreak,” she says, during a telephone interview. “You remember someone else has been through an experience like yours.”

Brown got support for her project from people who knew Van Zandt – his three wives, two sons and daughter, sister, cousin and high-school friends. Admiring fellow musicians tell  their favorite stories about Van Zandt.

Yet the most telling ones come from people outside the music business. They reveal a troubled soul early on, despite being born to a comfortable Houston family. His parents institutionalized him for suicidal tendencies and he received shock therapy. And his first wife recalls how, while still newlyweds, he sequestered himself in their small apartment’s coat closet to write his first song ever – “Waitin’ Around to Die.” “I was expecting a love ballad,” she says.

No one can watch “Be Here to Love Me” without realizing Van Zandt’s music is spectacular. But his life? “I want people when they watch the film to think about the common artistic question – how much do you have to live your art,” Brown says. “I believe you have to go there to know what it’s about. But I’m not sure you have to take it as far as Townes did.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Might The Sonics Be the Great American Rock Band?

By Steven Rosen
(From Cincinnati CityBeat 4-22-15/Huffington Post)

If there is ever a contest to declare The Great American Rock Band, past or present, The Sonics should be high in the running. True, The Beach Boys or R.E.M. or Nirvana are better known and had greater immediate impact, but The Sonics — in the best American tradition — turned their weaknesses into strengths and in so doing created an entire new aesthetic for recognizing Rock at its best.  

It just took a while for the nation — the world, actually — to catch up with them. The Tacoma, Wash.-originated Garage Rock band is touring behind its first new album in almost 50 years, This Is the Sonics. Three of the current lineup’s five members — guitarist Larry Parypa, lead singer/keyboardist Gerry Roslie and saxophonist Rob Lind — are original Sonics. With them are bassist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson.

It wasn’t until the Punk and Post Punk generation realized, in hindsight, that the 1960s-era DIY band — teenagers inspired by the rebellious attitude of The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Bob Dylan — were one of Rock’s most impassioned, unpretentiously authentic and rousing. The Sonics were one of the wildest and most raw Garage Rock bands around.

Their music belatedly penetrated mass culture. The band’s nasty, snarling Rock version of R&B singer Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel,” recorded in 1965 for its debut album, became familiar in recent years thanks to its use in commercials for Land Rover, BMW and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown TV show, as well as through a notable cover version by The Black Keys. As a result, “Have Love Will Travel” is now giving another of the late Berry’s compositions — “Louie Louie” — competition for being his most famous. 

Parypa, the band’s founding guitarist, recalls — with the circumspection of a 68-year-old — how much trepidation the teenage Sonics had about their craft back in the early- and mid-1960s. 

“Our feeling was we weren’t legitimate because we couldn’t play quality Rock & Roll with great finesse and understanding of the music,” he says. “When we would play with some local band that maybe had horns and were good musicians, Gerry and I always felt like maybe we shouldn’t be there.
We were not doing anything with the quality they did.

“So we had to do it the only way we could, which was very primitive-sounding. Since we were not all that great, we pounded our instruments. Everybody just put everything they had into playing.”

Told that many Rock historians believe The Sonics, in their inspired amateurism, came up with something more memorable than all their more competent contemporaries did, Parypa says, “I don’t know if it’s better, but it certainly was a different approach to Rock & Roll.” 

At the dawn on the 1960s, Tacoma especially was a cauldron for instrumental bands, largely because one local group, The Wailers, had produced a moderate national hit called “Tall Cool One” in 1959, while another, The Ventures, had a chart-topper with 1960’s “Walk Don’t Run.” 

“I got into it because my uncle played guitar and brought it over to our house once,” Parypa says of his entry into the Rock & Roll world as a youngster. “When I heard it go through an amplifier, the sound was just mind-numbing for me. I just loved it.”

The Sonics started as an instrumental band. An early version included Parypa’s brother, and their music-loving mother sometimes played rhythm guitar. But as the lineup evolved and musical trends changed, vocals were added. Roslie began singing for the band in 1964, and that changed everything. 

“He had so much emotion,” Parypa says. “The singing and all the trills. So we wanted to utilize his great vocals. Over time, we did no instrumentals and just featured ‘Gerry Roslie Screams.’ ”

In the Pacific Northwest, where new local bands like The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders were enjoying popularity, The Sonics got signed to a label called, amusingly, Etiquette Records. Three members of The Wailers founded Etiquette, which put out two albums, 1965’s Here Are the Sonics and 1966’s Boom, that are at the heart of The Sonics’ mystique. Raw and loud, recorded hurriedly and without restraint, their originals had a lyrical sense of danger, darkness and outright weirdness to go with their tumultuous sonic assault. 

Titles like “Strychnine,” “Psycho” and “He’s Waiting” (about the devil) were unforgettable — at least for the comparatively few nationally who heard them at the time. 

“We were not pretty,” Parypa says. “Instead of talking about losing your girlfriend, we were singing about taking strychnine.” 

But all things must pass. In 1967, the band switched to another label and made Introducing the Sonics, an album Parypa says everyone hated. (He says another studio album from 1980 bearing the band’s name is inauthentic.) The members moved on to other things after that album, save for a short reunion set in Seattle in the early 1970s.

It wasn’t until a New York promoter got them to headline a Garage Rock festival called Cavestomp! in 2007 that they realized what they had been missing. Dates in Europe followed. The band has played occasionally since then, but the current tour and new album mark The Sonics most thorough attempt at national exposure since … ever?

The new album was recorded in mono for The Sonics’ own label, Revox, by Jim Diamond, who played with The Dirtbombs and has worked in the studio with a slew of contemporary Garage Rock favorites, including Gore Gore Girls, The Mooney Suzuki and The White Stripes. The album has that same raucous, pounding edge as their Etiquette releases. There are several originals, including an unstoppable rave-up called “Bad Betty,” and vitality-injected covers of older songs, including a revved-up version of The Kinks’ “The Hard Way.” It’s an impressive return. 

“Many musicians who have stuck with music and developed and evolved over the last 50 years wouldn’t know how to go back and pretend they’re 16,” Parypa says. “But it was easier for us. We didn’t allow ourselves to become good. So here we are just hacking away, the same as we did back then.”

(The Sonics played Woodward Theater on April 23, 2015. This ran as an advance.)

Monday, May 4, 2015

From the Archives: A Long Day's Journey Into the Ramones.

“A Long Day’s Journey Into The Ramones”
On the new Ramones documentary “End of the Century” 
By Steven Rosen
(This originally ran in Harp Magazine, 2003, before Johnny's and Tommy's deaths.)
Hey! Ho! They’re gone.
Somehow, it’s hard to accept that the Ramones are over – broken up for more than six years now, two of their four original members dead. 
They still seem so alive, so organic. Because of the consistency with which they plied their humane punk-rock vision – often-funny three-chord songs kept short and played fast by guys who always looked alike– the Ramones never seemed to get old. They were – are – rock in the way that Mount Rushmore is. They were heroic in their very existence; their brotherly solidarity as solid as granite from 1974 to the present. They were family. 
As Rob Zombie observes in “End of the Century,” Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields’ compelling new documentary about the Ramones, “No matter what weird trends came and went, you’d go see the Ramones and it’d be like, ‘What year is it, anyway?’”
And yet, the Ramones’ true story was not quite the same as the image. In fact, there was so much tension and anxiety, so much anger and downright pain associated with this “family,” that the film could be called “Long Day’s Journey Into The Ramones.” 
“Century” brilliantly begins with the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Joey, the lanky and intensely yearning lead singer, had died of lymphoma the previous year. Dee Dee, the colorful original bassist who would be dead of a drug overdose in just a few months, is endearing as he thanks himself. One watches and thinks – what price Hall of Fame?
Key to the band’s tension, and painstakingly documented in “Century,” was the estrangement of the band’s two leaders, Joey and terse, no-nonsense guitarist Johnny, who together owned Ramones Productions. Johnny had married Joey’s beloved girlfriend, Linda, and Joey never forgave him.
“When he (Johnny) saw the film, he called up and said, “I come across as pretty bad,’’ Gramaglia says, in a telephone interview from his New York editing studio. “He showed it to a lot of his friends and they said, “But that’s the way you are.’ And he said, “I guess that’s the way I am. Leave it the way it is.’’’
Yet at the same time as “Century” reveals this rift and more, the film consistently celebrates the power of the music. It offers extensive footage from the band’s earliest days at CBGB’s to a tour of Brazil where they were received like superstars.
“We were able to get close to them,” Gramaglia says during a joint telephone interview with Fields. Both are New Yorkers; Gramaglia worked for Ramones Productions and Fields is his high-school friend. “If you look at their previous interviews, they were never very candid about this stuff. That was because there was so much animosity in the band, yet they felt it was nobody’s business. They were very traditional in that way.”
The Ramones started in 1974 as four music-loving friends from the Forest Hills, Queens, area of New York City – Jeffrey Hyman (Joey), John Cummings (Johnny), drummer Tom Erdelyi (Tommy), and Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee). 
There were changes through the years, although Joey and Johnny remained constant. Virtually all the various Ramones are interviewed in the film. (Dee Dee proves a hilarious yet touching junkie raconteur.) Only Joey, himself, is missing. At first wary of participating in a project that would air dirty laundry, he subsequently begged off on-camera interviews because of his health. 
But after performing at a Christmas, 2000, party where he looked and sounded strong, he told the filmmakers he was finally ready. “And then he slipped and broke his hip going out around New Year’s, and that was it,” Fields says. Joey died a few months afterward, never regaining his spirits.
“Century” takes its title from the album Phil Spector produced for the Ramones in 1980, in which the reclusive, psychologically erratic early-rock legend pulled a gun on the band. Given Spector’s current legal problems, this episode is extremely timely now. 
So, too, are Johnny’s typically unsentimental comments in “Century” recalling his hellish Spector experience: “A little man with lifts on his shoes, a wig on his head, and four guns.”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The 2015 Big Ears Festival: A Report


Big Ears logo
Remember this name: Tanya Tagaq. 
When she’s at the top of the charts in a year or so, or when she’s the guest musical artist on Saturday Night Live or performing at the White House, she had a breakthrough at this year’s Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, which occurred March 27-29.
She created the biggest buzz of any act there. Nobody had heard or seen anything like her. She’s an Inuk throat singer who cautioned her audience before she started performing to not get upset or alarmed by what they’re about to see or hear – she is not in any danger and is not harming herself. “Don’t be worried. I’m fine,” she said.
And then, boom! Drummer Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubit began their approximately 45-minute set of improvised, avant-garde jazz as the youthful Tagaq slowly gets in the right mood to sing. Or howl, scream, moan and cry…whatever the spirits directing her performance command of her. As her long brownish hair and tight, short blue dress both convey urban modernity, her journey into such outer limits of proper stage conduct is all the wilder.
Unlike, say, Tuvan throat singers of Asia – which is more chant-like – this is like Yoko Ono crossed with The Exorcist’s Linda Blair. Her “throat” voice wrestled with her “lung” voice in a Godzilla-versus-Rodan showdown. After a while, she was moving and dancing around the stage and then she started crawling, rolling, and writhing. The music is ethnographic and experimental, yes, but there was an undeniable erotic dimension – at times, one was reminded of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby.”
You’re not quite sure how to take her, but you’re so in awe of her energy and her music that you watch stunned. When the set was over, she received an extended standing ovation from the crowd at the stately, turn-of-the-20th-Century Bijou Theatre.
That earlier comment about her rising up the charts is made somewhat in jest, of course. Not that she couldn’t, but how do you capture this on record? How do you edit it down to a hit single? And even if you could, what would she do for a follow-up album? But she is right on the cusp of crossing over from cutting-edge music to something larger. And her Big Ears set sure helped her.
This was the fourth Big Ears Festival that Ashley Capps has produced since 2009 – it took three years off, from 2011-2013, before last year’s revival. If I credit Capps as producer rather than his Knoxville-based AC Entertainment (producer of Bonnaroo, Forecastle and Mountain Oasis festivals), it’s because he seems to have a special affinity for it. He was present at various venues to introduce guests and see shows, always smiling and looking happy.
For that matter, all Knoxville looked good for the event. For a relatively small city – under 200,000 – its Downtown and Old City areas have seen an impressive number of old factories and office buildings converted to apartments, Its Market Square is a lively public space with restaurants like Tupelo Honey and the Tomato Head proving favorites for festival attendees. It’s not as hip as nearby Asheville, N.C., yet – but it’s catching on.
Capps has said he based Big Ears – which is designed to be for fans who are open-minded (and –eared) about their musical tastes – on Cincinnati’s MusicNow, which was created by The National’s Bryce Dessner as a boutique festival that explores where rock, contemporary classical, folk, jazz and international music connect. One community radio host has also suggested a debt to Cropped Out, the Louisville festival that attempts a mash-up between experimental and outsider music.
Dessner, a very busy composer of minimalist-influenced classical pieces in addition to being a rock guitarist, has been a frequent presence at Big Ears, even guest-curating it one year. This year, he was there to, among other things, introduce violinist Yuki Numata Resnick, who played an appealing new Dessner work, “Ornament,” at Knoxville Art Museum.
Because this year’s Artist in Residence was the Kronos Quartet, the festival did seem to have more of a classical focus than ones past. There were a lot of violins and pianos, string quartets and other combinations. There were numerous good ones. Pianist/composer Rachel Grimes, a last-minute replacement for the injured Harold Budd, deserves special praise for her work under pressure, especially.
Kronos did shows with Tagaq, Dessner, Terry Riley, Sam Amidon and Rhiannon Giddens, and – most notably – Laurie Anderson. The latter’s performance of her 2013 Hurricane Sandy-inspired Landfall collaboration with Kronos was probably the festival’s most highly anticipated event.
Occurring in the ornate and historic 1920s-era Tennessee Theatre, it found Anderson in a quiet, reflective mood as she related anecdotes – mostly in her natural mellifluous voice but at times switching to her spacy male vocoder alter ego – that used the hurricane’s destructive power as a central focus for thoughts on dreams, species extinction, the stars and more.
It seemed more scattered both as music and monologues than her past work, and thus less gripping. And the visual component of abstracted, changing numbers and letters wasn’t especially compelling. Still, the part where she confessed how she responded to her own hurricane damage (it was never clear if such damage had really occurred or was poetic license) by thinking, “How beautiful! How magical! How catastrophic!” did resonate. It was the kind of enticingly contradictory insight Anderson excels at. And her acoustic and electric violin work was appealing, while Kronos provided rigorously dedicated and empathetic support.
The Anderson/Kronos appearance also revealed a problem that Big Ears needs to address. Because it is a festival where pass-holders choose among simultaneous shows at multiple venues, people come and go during individual concerts. They also use their smart-phone flashlights to check their schedules, or send messages, in darkened theaters.
That’s OK at shows where performers play a number of songs because there are natural breaks. But in those that instead are long performance pieces or symphony-length classical works, it’s disruptive and annoying as hell.
Especially during Landfall, which needs the mood of a darkened auditorium to be most effective. Big Ears should adopt a policy of having someone make announcements from the stage at a show’s start to not use phones, and then have the ushers at the main venues – the Bijou and the Tennessee – stop people from entering mid-performance.
Visual projections of all sorts are important at Big Ears. This year there was a whole sidebar film program, which took over a Downtown movie screen on Sunday, of movies curated by Jim Jarmusch and Michael Gira of The Swans. 
And at the Bijou, Jarmusch’s rock trio Squrl provided a grungy semi-soundtrack to Man Ray’s surrealist short films from the 1920s. (Jarmusch collaborator Jozef van Wissem (above)by the way, had a solo club date where he played Chinese lute while sitting, his arm raised and feet spread in a rock-star way that looked very cool when bathed in the venue’s blue and white lighting.)
But the best video imagery I saw were the ghostly black-and-white apparition that appeared, suspended upside-down, behind The Bad Plus (above) as the trio played Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” on a Bijou stage. The Bad Plus – pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King — was a shot of disciplined, precise but rousingly energetic jazz adrenaline amid the other musical genres featured at this festival. I wish Big Ears would choose a jazz performer as Artist in Residence next year, and bring in some of that music’s aging modernist giants – Ornette Coleman, the Marshall Allen-led Sun Ra Arkestra, Cecil Taylor – to play while they’re still active.
There was rock ‘n’ roll at this year’s Big Ears. The Swans launched forth a tumultuously cathartic set at the Bijou on Sunday night, the band projecting their sublime, rocket-powered playing of those loud repetitive guitar chords until everyone present achieved nirvana on the spot.
I thought I recognized them working on their epic “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Overture” when I arrived at the show, but I could be wrong because the nature of their live music is so different from their recordings. Gira was leading the ensemble magnificently – it really felt like they had been set free of earthly limits.

But there was the volume issue. The Swans’ merchandise booth was doing a brisk business in $2 earplugs – seemingly everyone was wearing them –and the salesperson joked this was the only way to hear them. Should he choose, Gira might be able to have as profitable a sideline in “Swans Earplugs” as Dr. Dre has with his headphones.
Perfume Genius (above) used to primarily be known as the stage name – the conceptual name – for the singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, whose piano-based songs were beguiling but also introverted. But with the success of a new sound on last year’s Too Bright album, he has started touring with a tight band that prominently brings an alt-rock dimension to his sound. With that, he can tour as a relatively dynamic live act.
At Big Ears, his sound and persona were extroverted to such an extent he seemed to surprise himself. He wore a longish black shirt that stopped below his waist, mesh stockings and platform-heeled shoes and he did odd, bent-knee dancing and sashaying as he moved around the stage while singing. He was a free spirit, but he could also slow things down for an intimate keyboard ballad, however.
Notable at his show was the hard-edged, sparky guitar work, which transformed the Too Bright songs like “Queen” and “My Body” – the latter with its Link Wray-like instrumental rumble – into showstoppers. His compositions are too brief to have maximum effect – you want more out of each song – but nevertheless impactful.
Strangely, he was booked into the 1,600-seat Tennessee Theatre for a 7 p.m. Sunday – closing night – show, when he probably should have had a Friday or Saturday night gig. The turnout wasn’t bad – a couple hundred – but that left a lot of empty seats, which seemed to dissipate his efforts to build energy during his set.
The night before, in a later slot, Merrill Garbus’ Tune-yards played to a substantially larger and more enthusiastic crowd at the Tennessee. Hers is another case of someone who has transformed her presumed nom de plume into a legitimate touring band to back up a breakthrough album (with a semi-hit song to boot, “Water Fountain”) in last year’s Nicki-Nack.
With her on stage was bassist Nate Brenner, who provided some good jaggedly splintery guitar; a potent percussionist in Dani Markham; and two supporting vocalists/dancers– one of whom, Moira Smiley, moved about the stage so engagingly you might have though she was the headliner. Playing drums and ukulele, projecting happiness outward, Garbus was almost unstoppably irresistible.
But to be honest, some of the novelty does wear off during a full show, especially as you focus on the colorful costumes and Pee Wee’s Playhouse-like stage backdrop, the goofy faux-naive charm of the singing and dancing, and all the Bow Wow Wow-redux drumming.
I was fortunate to catch the last half hour of Giddens’ solo show with a crackerjack acoustic ensemble supporting her singing and work on violin. In a long red dress that bared one shoulder, the tall Giddens performed such classy, thoughtful material as a song based on Gaelic “mouth music” and Sister Rosetta Thorpe’s “Up Above My Head.”
As she has a new solo album out, Tomorrow Is My Turn, she was at Big Ears to both emerge from her past as a Carolina Chocolate Drop member and to stay true to that group’s (and her) advocacy for authenticity and roots to be present in contemporary music. So far, so good for her quest.
Not all the rock-oriented acts at Big Ear cared about having an arresting visual presence to accompany their music. My favorite one, guitarist Steve Gunn, was so downright demure and restrained on stage at a club called The Square Room that it prompted concern among some he wasn’t projecting a personality to go with his music.
No need for alarm. The Philadelphia-raised Brooklyn resident, on last year’s outstanding Way Out Weather, moved decisively from his earlier, more experimental and often-instrumental work to recognizably song-based material featuring his earnestly plain but honest voice singing and playing with restrained backing. At Big Ears, he presented those songs – and he has strong, atmospheric material like the album’s title song and “Milly’s Garden” – in a no-nonsense way that highlighted musicality. He was accompanied by Paul Sukeena on guitar, Nathan Bowles on drums and Jason Meagher on bass.
Gunn, who played acoustic and electric guitar, offered a textured, dense, fast-moving often-droning sound that borrows from 1960s folk guitarists like John Fahey and Sandy Bull. But he also can do electric-guitar runs that in their piercingly clear, high-pitched, melancholy melodiousness recall Jerry Garcia. When all systems are churning, the music achieves the same kind of ethereal haziness as The War on Drugs offers. He has recently signed with Matador Records and is opening for Wilco, and the Big Ears show served as an introduction of big things to come.
As did all of Big Ears, for that matter, assuming it continues – and continues to grow and attract national attention – in 2016.
(This ran as a feature report at Blurt Online on 4-24-15. Photos are by Steven Rosen. Editing and design by Fred Mills.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Madeleine Peyroux: A Jazz Singer Influenced by the Blues

By Steven Rosen
Cincinnati Enquirer, 4-19-15

Celebrated as one of our premier jazz singers, Madeleine Peyroux comes to 20th Century Theater on Tuesday in support of her recent Best Of album. It features her favorite tracks from the six records she has made since her 1996 debut.
That means her show here – with bassist Barak Mori and guitarist Jon Herington – should feature some of those songs, like Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart,” Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” or “I’m All Right,” which she composed with Larry Klein and Steely Dan’s Walter Becker.
But Peyroux is a vocalist constantly in search of good material. And when she finds it, she likes to present it to her fans promptly.
“I’m interested in bringing some new material when I come out there,” she said, in a recent telephone interview. “So the show won’t just be based on the last record I put out. At this moment, we also have a song by Linton Kwesi Johnson, the (Jamaica-born) dub artist, called More Time, and one by Townes Van Zandt called Highway Kind.”
She also may offer some of her own new songs – one is called Garbage Man. But the emphasis is on may. “I don’t have a deep desire to present myself as a songwriter as much as I have the deep desire to present good songs,” she said. “I love writing, but the idea of being able to present something of mine as a finished product is very daunting to me.”
Although American-born, she moved to Paris as a teenager in the late-1980s with her mother, and soon began busking with street bands that favored American jazz and blues. Because her father had a large collection of old records, she was familiar with classic blues and jazz artists like Bessie Smith and Fats Waller. While self-taught, she did begin professional lessons after losing her voice from long touring after her first album, Dreamland.
She accepts being called a jazz singer, but says she believes her voice – introspective and quietly soulful rather than showy in an intentionally virtuosic way – primarily has been influenced by blues.
“It’s kind of at the root of jazz singing in the way that I love that singing,” she explained. “A lot of jazz singing is more based on improvisation, on being a tonal instrument and less on being a dramatic singer. I have never been able to think like that. I’m not someone who improvises in term of scat singing and things like that.
“My approach is based more on the experience the singer is getting from singing that song,” she said. “Is there something that’s personal or confessional, at least in the spirit of it? It should be a place to be yourself, to dramatize a persona and give yourself room to say what you want to say and not just what is popular.”
Madeleine Peyroux
Opening: The Ric Hordinski Trio
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $35-$40,
Where: The 20th Century, 3021 Madison Road, Oakley.

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