20 March, 2009

Friday Afternoon Singer-Songwriter

"Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" by She & Him was playing on my radio when I woke up this morning, and although Zooey Deschanel never fails to remind me of Elf (a movie that holds a special place in my heart), I was also reminded of something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Zooey's voice is not a Jazz voice a la Billie Holiday, it carries a little twang of folk and country that often undoes the softness in her vocals ("I Should Have Known Better" is one of the few tracks on the album Volume One that cultivates that softness, and even forces it to the forefront). Still, I was searching through my music this morning, trying (although that word really conveys a level of work that was not present in my wanderings) to find a voice that combines Holiday and Deschanel.

I found it in Madeleine Peyroux, who dropped a new album, Bare Bones, on the 10th. This is the first of Peyroux's albums that ignores Jazz standards, and just caters to her own songs. "Instead" starts the album with a realistic entreaty to think positively. It takes on that Jazz tradition of recognizing pain, but pushing for hope (one of my favorite characteristics of Jazz, even when it sounds hopeless). "Bare Bones" goes beyond Jazz standards however, channeling a little Randy Newman. With that realization, I begin to see where Zooey and Madeleine are so similar. They combine softness and strength (Billie Holiday-esque qualities, in my humble opinion) with clever sarcasm and self-deprecation (oh so very Randy Newman). It is all achieved through music that is consistently aurally pleasing and unobtrusive. So much so, in fact, that Zooey and Madeleine kind of sneak up on you, be it when you're in your favorite little coffee shop or just shuffling through your iPod. They are quality, but they are not fantastic, and it is precisely because of this that they both make amazing soundtracks for everyday life. This is not to say that they fail in any regard as singer-songwriters, but only that they capture something very realistic and encapsulate it in song. Their music is where you find comfort and home on a sunny Friday afternoon.

No comments: