just a pretty voice: Peyroux at the Egg.
Peyroux, Kate McGarry
Egg, Mach 6
Peyroux kicked off the tour in support of her new album, Bare
Bones, in Albany last Friday at the Egg. With the exception
of the handful of press members, those in attendance were
given a rare opportunity to be given their first exposure
to new music live, rather than from a recording. It’s a testament
to the friendly patina of Peyroux’s music, as well as the
venue’s pristine acoustics, that the 90-minute set was able
to be drawn primarily from an album that wasn’t released until
four days after the show.
Bones marks a departure and expansion on the part of Peyroux,
with its 11 new songs all being originals, cowritten with
a host of collaborators (including Walter Becker, Joe Henry,
Julian Coryell, and her producer Larry Klein). With the exception
of keyboardist Larry Goldings, the members of her live quartet
were not among the players on the new release, but they handled
all the material, familiar and new, with equal aplomb. Soloing
was the domain of Goldings (hooray for a Hammond organ with
a Leslie cabinet!) and guitarist Jon Herington. Peyroux projected
a sort of casual elegance, speaking only occasionally but
with a confidence on a par with her music. While she’s often
compared to jazz singers (most obviously Billie Holiday, but
more accurately Abbey Lincoln, herself influenced by Lady
Day), she draws equally from pop, cabaret, folk, and art songs.
Bass guitarist Barak Mori, a noted jazz player on string bass,
was playing parts that had R&B swagger and gentle funkish
propulsion, but nary a whiff of the J word.
Kate McGarry’s opening set I overheard a man saying to his
companion, “I like jazz singing, but I don’t like jazz music.”
Ah, there’s the rub! Audiences are trained to respond to labels—they’re
an important marketing tool. Jazz encompasses everything from
the dense thicket of Cecil Taylor to the soulful compositions
of Horace Silver, and from the sugar-on-everything hairstylings
of Kenny G to the gutbucket wallop of David Murray. Folk runs
the gamut from the Kingston Trio to the Incredible String
Band; rock broadly includes the Byrds and Metallica. Artists
end up defining their own realm, and we’re all the better
for it. Try something new every day. It may not lengthen your
life, but it’s bound to deepen it. A museum is a fine place
to visit, but who’d want to live there?
North Adams, Mass. March 7
not with a sense of irony, per se, that Nick Zammuto and Paul
de Jong perform under the moniker the Books, but there is
something cute about it. Pioneers of a form of music variously
known as “folktronica” or “future folk,” the band are about
as multimedia as a guitar-and-cello duo can get. Press materials
like to boast that they are either the most inventive band
in pop music or the most accessible band in experimental music,
and it’s this ambiguity, fomented by a sea of samples, found
sounds, beats and video projections, that requires a listener
to, ahem, read the Books.
a week in residence at Mass MoCA, Zammuto and de Jong had
added five new pieces to their repertoire, and they premiered
them at this, the band’s first show in two years. The first,
titled “Group Therapy,” inverted a clinical scenario whereby
the listener was subjected to a fleet of psychiatrists who
ap peared on the overhead screen. As the band worked through
sooth ing material, the characters scratched their chins,
spouted heady platitudes, and prescribed self-important remedies.
But while humor was a frequent result of the band’s wonky
media collage, it wasn’t necessarily their strongest suit.
aiming to confound, the band’s best work kept easy meaning
at a postmodern arm’s length, and so required audience members
to actively synthesize the bits and pieces they were apprehending.
When Zammuto offered live vocals, they were often mixed to
a secondary level and accompanied by found dialogue. Both
performers processed their instruments such that it became
difficult to distinguish what was being performed live and
what had been synched to the video track. Meanwhile, the images
themselves were obscure and paired in defiance of conventional
was a time when all of this would have been edgy and utterly
unpalatable for the average listener/viewer, but the Books
approach their media not as lifeless simulacra, but with the
sense that all phenomena is emotionally loaded. Following
an assertion that “all is sacred; there is nothing natural
in nature,” snowy mountains, bubbles bursting, popcorn popping,
cans being opened, and people pole-vaulting can all be equally
sublime. Even the most insipid camp can be imbued with meaning,
often by simply removing the image or soundbite from its context
and doing as Zammuto suggests in one of his lyrics: “Let’s
notice everything/Let’s be thorough to a fault.”
on the notion of “infinite connectivity” that comes up in
the song “Smells Like Content,” the band seems to consider
every cultural relic as valid source material. For one track
they used thrift-store-mined Talkboy recordings to spin an
oddly humorous amalgam of sibling death threats. For another,
they collaborated with Emmy-winning archivist Rich Remsberg.
Most striking about all of this is how personal they make
the material seem. It’s as if, in the info age, the scrapbook
of our lives has been stretched to encompass every image and
sound we’ve ever encountered, regardless of how foreign it
may be to our lived experience. With “The Class Penguin,”
Zammuto brought the process full circle by using home video
of his brother Michael.
tend to be visual creatures, it was easy to let the video
projections trump the band’s instrumental prowess throughout
the show, but this should not diminish their musical talent.
Zammuto’s fingerpicking on both guitar and electric bass was
excellent, and de Jong’s work on electric cello is largely
responsible for the bucolic character of most tunes. Much
has been—and should be—made of the Books’ multimedia trickery,
but earnest, emotive songwriting is at the core of what they
do, so when the band encored with Nick Drake’s “Cello Song,”
it was a fitting surprise.