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Album review: Madeleine Peyroux's 'Bare Bones'

March 9, 2009 |  5:59 pm

Peyroux It’s hard to imagine a candelit cocktail bar that wouldn’t benefit from playing Madeleine Peyroux’s fourth album, “Bare Bones.” The ear loves to catch on the inflections of her supple alto, the clear picking on her acoustic guitar, the pacing as slow as a hand-stitched dress.

Peyroux has proved a deft translator with previous covers of Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg, but "Bare Bones," the first album on which  she has co-written every song (and solo-penned "I Must Be Saved") doesn't take enough risks. Peyroux and longtime producer and frequent co-writer Larry Klein spin many an afternoon reverie but too many songs are stuck in one overly relaxed groove, like a broken massage chair.

Songwriting assists from Steely Dan's Walter Becker widen her palette -- "You Can't Do Me" opens with cheeky piano and Hammond organ, setting the scene for the album's most sharp-witted lyrics: "Rebuked like a Bible Belt border crosser, juked like a payola cart topper -- gone, gone, gone!"

Peyroux doesn't need to abandon her trademark loose-limbed style, but she needs to push at the edges of it more. "River of Tears" is a fine example of what she can do, in her own muted vernacular -- melancholy soaked with sunrise.

--Margaret Wappler

Madeleine Peyroux
"Bare Bones"
Rounder Records
Two and half stars