Twenty years after her recording debut, Dreamland, Madeleine Peyroux continues her musical journey of exploration beyond the ordinary with Secular Hymns, aspirited 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 andupright bassist Barak Mori— the trio crafted the album in a live setting in a small church in theOxfordshire countryside of England. The result is a stirring collection of songs that have their ownhymn-like stories of self-awareness."Music has been our spiritual life," says Peyroux, "so I think of these as hymns, secular hymns—songsthat are very individual, personal, introverted."With her seductively expressive voice, Secular Hymns sees Peyroux interpreting tunes by seminal bluesartists Willie Dixon and Lil Green, classic gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, dub reggae innovatorLinton Kwesi Johnson, contemporary craftsmen Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Allen Toussaint, 19thcentury American giant Stephen Foster, and an early African-American spiritual.The evolution of Secular Hymns is as organic as the recording itself. The story starts with a concert inthe aforementioned church in the rural Oxfordshire countryside. Celebrated French chef Raymond Blanchad purchased an old manor in the tiny village of Little Milton and renamed it Belmond Le Manoir wherehe hosts events, including a nine-course meal in his Michelin-starred restaurant. As a part of the wholeexperience, people are invited before dinner to go to the nearby 12th-century Norman-styled church, St.Mary the Virgin, to attend a concert of live music. Last year Peyroux and her trio were invited to perform."At the sound check, I was singing Randy Newman's song 'Guilty,' and it was amazing the way my voicesounded in the cavernous room," explains Peyroux. She continues, "It has a wood ceiling that gave myvoice 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 fewmonths later with the intention to document the work Peyroux and her band had been developing on theroad. "We had become very close, and had been stretched to come up with new sounds," the acousticguitarist says, noting that she had added a guilele (a cross between ukulele and guitar) to the voice ofthe band. "Jon was always so versatile on the guitar and Barak is very good with a bow. Plus they bothlike to sing. "Peyroux booked the 200-seat church for three days—first day for set up and sound check, second for afree live show for townspeople that was recorded, and third to recut new live takes sans audience ifneeded. "It is a blast playing with Jon and Barak and so much has to do with the interplay among us,"says Peyroux. "It's a recording that reflects the organic way we have been working as a trio on thearrangements of these songs."While noting that she veers away from being "the normal jazz trio," Peyroux nonetheless brings her jazzsensibility into roots music territory in such a moving way that she captures the celebration and praiseimplied in the songs—a special ten-song collection of bona fide Secular Hymns