20 years after her recording debut, Dreamland, Madeleine Peyroux continues her musical journey of exploration beyond the ordinary with Secular Hymns, a spirited and soulful masterwork to be released September 16 on Impulse!/Verve Label Group. Recorded with her touring band-mates of the last two years —electric guitarist Jon Herington and upright bassist Barak Mori— the trio crafted the album in a live setting in a small church in the Oxfordshire countryside of England. The result is a stirring collection of songs that have their own hymn-like stories of self-awareness.
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“Music has been our spiritual life,” says Peyroux, “so I think of these as hymns, secular hymns—songs that are very individual, personal, introverted.”
With her seductively expressive voice, Secular Hymns sees Peyroux interpreting 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.
“At the sound check, I was singing Randy Newman’s song ’Guilty,’ and it was amazing the way my voice sounded in the cavernous room,” explains Peyroux. She continues, “It has a wood ceiling that gave my voice a reverb. My live engineer Doug Dawson told me I should make a record there.”
Fresh from the rarefied experience of performing their songbook there, they returned to the church a few months later with the intention to document the work Peyroux and her band had been developing on the road. “We had become very close, and had been stretched to come up with new sounds,” the acoustic guitarist says, noting that she had added a guilele (a cross between ukulele and guitar) to the voice of the band.
“Jon was always so versatile on the guitar and Barak is very good with a bow. Plus they both like to sing. ”
While noting that she veers away from being “the normal jazz trio,” Peyroux nonetheless brings her jazz sensibility into roots music territory in such a moving way that she captures the celebration and praise implied in the songs—a special ten-song collection of bona fide Secular Hymns!