Charisma is hard to define but easy to recognise.
It’s nothing to do with how loud you shout or how sharp you dress.
No. If present it surrounds the possessor like a solar corona that exerts invisible influence on distant objects.
Madeleine Peyroux has a charisma that is insistently present in her recordings and in performance.
When Madeleine sings she doesn’t come at you like a full force gale. Rather, standing still and singing softly she invites you to still yourself, lean in and listen closely.
She selects songs that have emotional depth; songs that resonate with our lived experience and our dreamscapes, songs that never let us go, songs that no matter how many times heard always retain a core of unfathomable mystery.
Songs a true singer can sing over and over again because they continue to engage the person and the performer.
Madeleine had a peripatetic bohemian childhood and adolescence taking in Canada, France, England and the USA.
Her parents were radical academics who had a record collection which exposed her to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
As she was beginningto play guitar she was struck by the self possessed quiet authority of Tracy Chapman.
While living and busking in Paris as a teenager she encountered the Chanson tradition through the works of Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf.
All very good preparation for taking on songs by the greatest songwriters of the 20th century!Embed from Getty Images
Let’s start with her languorously hypnotic take on Leonard Cohen’s, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’.
Now, it’s immediately obvious that Madeleine swings.
She feels where the beat is and chooses when and how to engage with it.
She’s both above and within the song slyly pausing and eliding notes to emphasise the ritual cadences of Leonard’s lyric.
She’s barefoot dancing through the song, her voice burning incandescently as like the homeward dove she leads us safely through the suppressed panic till we’re safely gathered in.
Safely gathered in.
In a sense every song Madeleine sings becomes a tent of shelter against the cruelties of the world both for herself and through her singing for her audience.
For the duration of the spell cast no matter how threadbare our spiritual and emotional raiment we are given glimpses of wholeness and redemptive hope.
You can bet that Leonard laboured long and hard to write, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ juts as you can safely assume that Bob Dylan received, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ as a more or less direct transmission from his extravagant Muses.
The miraculous flow of the song is Bob at his Olympian best entrancing us with his sensuous mastery of language.
The song is a tapestry of images strartling in their freshness, beauty and tenderness.
It would be idle to pick out individual lines in a song which has such imaginative, lyrical and musical unity.
Madeleine gives the song a highly attentive reading so that time seems to meander and eddy as we listen.
Perhaps the gretest Songwriting Forefather for both Bob and Leonard was the one and only Hank WIlliams.
Hank is dead for 60 years now.
But, of course though Hank is dead he will never be gone.
For Hank wrote songs that speak with shocking intimacy to the bare forked animal inside every one of us.
The snow falls round the window and dream worlds fall apart.
Oh God forgive us if we cry.
Forgive us if we cry.
Madeleine knows that with a Hank Williams song only minimal ornamentation is required. Hank has put so much feeling in the song that to sing it truly is to become a Medium channeling his spirit.
I’m going to leave you with a grand cadeu for the New Year.
Madeleine paying homage to Josephine Baker and the Chanson tradition with a song from 1930 written by Vincent Scotto, Henri Varna and Geo Koger.
Now wasn’t that pure pleasure!
Madeleine has had an erratic recording career. It’s clear from my choices above that I have a particular fondness for her, ‘Careless Love’ album.
Yet, every record she has made will surely repay your interest as she illuminates a treasury of great songs within Jazz, Blues, Country, Folk and Chanson.
Load up your Jukeboxes!