Madeleine Peyroux sings in French with the same grace and dexterity as when she sings in English. It's a talent that casts her as exotic, cosmopolitan and European, despite the fact that she was born in Athens, Ga.
Now Peyroux is trying to forge a new persona to broaden her identity beyond the jazz-pop genre. Her latest album, Standing on the Rooftop, is a rootsier, guitar-based record that calls for the kind of down-to-earth vocal style you'd expect from a Georgian.
In her press materials, Peyroux shares her motivation for venturing into new musical terrain. "I'm interested in exploring tougher sounds, even ugly sounds, trying to find something more raw than the voice that I have now, and in the accompaniment that I have become used to," she says.
"I think my fans are eager to hear something different," she adds. "Music has grown into another place in my mind. I am the same singer that I was as a teen, that wants to grow into music, wherever it comes from."
Of all the tracks on Rooftop, her take on Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" is the starkest departure from Peyroux's past work. The guitar licks convey the gritty dejection of unrealized potential. It's a far cry from the charming jazz arrangement of "Don't Wait Too Long," Peyroux's radio hit from 2007. The new song is tailor-made for a singer like Lucinda Williams, whose edgy Southern voice would magnify the heartache of each verse. In contrast, Peyroux's delicate delivery falls short of conveying the song's tough emotion.
Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" is a much better fit. That song's chorus of strings sounds sad and cinematic. Against this instrumental background, Peyroux's impressionistic vocals create the effect of suspending time.
Peyroux performs at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. The show is part of the Isthmus Jazz Series.
Peyroux fans may or may not like her new musical direction, but the singer has no regrets about expanding her horizons. "I don't believe I've given up anything," she says. "I've added to myself."