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Madeleine Peyroux

HALF THE PERFECT WORLD • Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux has a beautiful time machine. Step inside and it whisks you back to a time before American Idol, Wi-Fi and Paris Hilton. A time before auto-tuned vocals and attitude. Two years ago, she spun our chronometers with the coolly anachronistic Careless Love. Now she returns with the equally enchanting, fashion unconscious Half The Perfect World.

Enlisting the previous disc's dream team--from producer Larry Klein to songwriter Jesse Harris to session monsters like Dean Parks, Greg Leisz, and Jay Bellerose--Peyroux resumes her languid tour through the '30s & '40s smoky nightclub style with well-chosen covers and a handful of originals.

Though there is a warm nostalgia in her sound, it's much more. Imaginative interpreter that she is, Peyroux gently twists familiar classics from five different decades into something contemporary, something that we've never heard before. On the Nilsson hit "Everybody's Talkin'," she locates a new heart at the song's center, one that's more amorous than vagabond. Tom Waits's "(Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night" is invested with a kind of sunny hope while Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" manages to sound like the saddest song ever written. She transports Serge Gainsbourg's "La Javanaise" into a delicate music box waltz and Joni Mitchell's "River" (a duet with k.d. lang) into the front pew of the church. Most startlingly of all, her take on Sinatra's classic "Summer Wind" strips away the Chairman's bravado to reveal the dreamy love letter that the song really is.

The other tunes--including two by Leonard Cohen and three Peyroux wrote with Klein and Harris--while not as remarkable as the covers, nestle comfortably alongside them, never breaking the spell.

Songs and sonics aside, what this record is really about is Peyroux's singing. Fragile, balanced between a smile and a tear, with echoes of Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee, hers is a voice that belongs and doesn't belong to any decade. Simply put, it's timeless. • Bill DeMain

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