What our critics are listening to

11:07 AM, Mar 18, 2013

Madeleine Peyroux is a bluesy vocalist often compared to Billie Holiday. (Shore Fire Media/Marina Chavez)/


THE BLUE ROOM. Fans of Ray Charles are familiar with Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, his 1962 album that might be one of the finest country records of all time. Peyroux re-visits this classic album by including six songs from it and its Volume 2 followup, in a creative revision of the soul legend’s original vision. Peyroux is the right singer for this job. She hasn’t forgotten how to be the interesting jazz singer that she is, on “Born to Lose” and “You Don’t Know Me.” But here, Peyroux shows how easily a great singer moves between jazz, blues and country, and isn’t afraid to challenge some of Charles’ original ideas. With “Bye Bye Love,” she adds a little western swing to the calculation, and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” gets some electric guitar. Strings polish many of the moments, without overwhelming anything, because it’s not like Peyroux needs the help. Peyroux has that Billie Holiday echo in her voice, but is less about ache and more about a woman who knows what she wants, as in the smoky jazz chanteuse of “Take These Chains.” Peyroux adds some songs to update the ideas a bit, such as Warren Zevon’s “Desperadoes Under the Eaves,” but they don’t detract from the timeless feel here. Sure, Charles is a pretty big pair of shoes to fill. But this is such a cool genre-jumble of an idea, I can’t believe someone else hasn’t tried it before. — JEFF SPEVAK


A LOVE SURREAL. R&B purists and musician aficionados know about Bilal, an eclectic musician and singer. Describing his sound means using words like ethereal along with soulful, haunting, cool. Images of driving on the country side on a convertible, with only the wind as company, come to mind when you Bilal sings “Shooting star to light the way…been driving for a while. Just lost for now” on the enchanting “Lost for Now.” On “Butterfly” featuring Robert Glasper, one funky and unique musician meets another to create a sparse yet melodic song. Listening to Bilal is like listening to a lounge singer (not the cheesy kind) who wears his heart on his sleeve and emotes on every song. A Love Surreal is a musical journey worth taking; surprises await at every turn. — SHEILA RAYAM


LIVE FROM 97: This just-released six-year-old live set from Japan features an all-star fusion band, with drummer White from Return to Forever, bassist Foley from Miles Davis later bands, low-end bassist Victor Bailey from Weather Report, pianist Patrice Rushen from her own band, saxophonist Bernie Maupin from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, keyboard player Donald Blackman, and the late trumpeter, Mark Ledford. It was recorded on a tour in which White supported his two mid-’90s studio recordings, Present Tense and Renderers of the Spirit. The set kicks off with a funky “What a Dream,” in which everyone shines, concluding with a angular, popping White drum solo. The album’s cornerstone track, the 20-minute “East St. Louis” follows, and gives everyone plenty of room to stretch through a medium-tempo tune, with wildly varying dynamics. The funk dream “Pickpocket” follows, and then a moody “Dark,” and an up-tempo rave called “Wolfbane.” An alternate version of “What a Dream” wraps up the CD. — JACK GARNER