As far as joint artist tours go, when dueling headliners interact (such as recent showcases where Sting has, separately, paired with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel), none so far has been as rich, challenging, or so smartly and femininely finessed as the Rickie Lee Jones/Madeleine Peyroux showcase that hits Collingswood’s Scottish Rite Auditorium on March 3 and the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, N.J., on March 6.
“I feel we are coming from the same place, the same intentions of righteousness, humanism, intimacy, honesty,” Peyroux says of the similarities that bind the two cosmopolitan songstresses.
“I thought that her basic jazz aesthetic would jell with mine, thought her voice was even similar to mine,” Jones says in kind.
The challenge of such a tour stems from the fact that both met with early pop success and continued their careers with daring experimentation, usually touched with tints of jazz (Jones with Beat-era cool, Peyroux with an Edith Piaf-meets-Billie Holiday spirit). Then again, these women could have formed a mutual admiration society based upon everything they've accomplished since 1978 (Jones) and 1996 (Peyroux), all without a hint of ego.
“Oh, I don’t think that will be an issue, as we are both pretty easygoing,” Jones says before teasing, “that being said, we are splitting the headliner slot. "
Peyroux continues with, “I don't see any of that coming up. Perhaps because we're both over that stuff and because we're here to be real.”
Jones wouldn’t look backward during this brief interview, which was fine, even expected, for an eclectic visionary artist with a smoky vocal tone who has mostly eschewed pop after being awarded a Grammy as best new artist of 1980, the same year her bibbity-boppity single “Chuck E’s in Love” was nominated as best song. Her new album, The Other Side of Desire, is softly twisted art-blues with her usual Beat Gen lyricism.
What Jones focused on, other than adoring Peyroux (“I was so enamored with Maddy and our fabulous blend I proposed marriage. No, just kind of kidding. I proposed a duet album.”) was finding a way for this new duo to work toward a socially charged goal as they did by singing a cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” for women’s rights.
“That is a direct use of our work toward this greater good, but, frankly, I’m not a politician and would not expect it to be a given that my art would ever be used in a prescribed idea expressing my social views. Art transcends these things, it’s a chance for people who violently disagree to, for an hour, come together in the joy of the music. I don’t think it’s an artist's duty to cross that line, but I cross it. Yes, I do.”
For Peyroux, currently pushing her moody, blues cover album Secular Hymns (“I wanted to feel the bones of each blues story in naked form … as a reality check for the times we're living in”) and her own vision of women’s rights (“I'll stand in spirit and in person with anyone who's on the right side of any issue”), this tour was at the top of her head. Rightly so, as Jones was not only an inspiration for what a stretch the French singer could make, but a visionary of how jazz and blues traditionals could sound.
“I've been a fan of Rickie’s ever since I discovered her when I was in my 20s in Paris,” says Peyroux, who met Jones at a jazz awards presentation in 2005 in London. “Rickie was kind and easygoing with my awkward presence in the ceremony. I'm sure Rickie doesn't remember I felt so awkward I followed everything she did, where to stand, how to smile, and I hardly said a word.”
Beyond meeting a hero, it was Jones’ cool, aching phrasing and self-penned poetry that made her stand out for the young French song stylist.
“Finding her was like discovering another of the masters. I devoured what records I could find back then. This is before CDs and the like, and I was not able to spend money on that sort of thing, but there’s the timeless “Chuck E's in Love,” and “Makin' Whoopee” with Dr. John. She introduced me to other masters in turn, such as Oscar Brown Jr. I can easily conjure a sound memory of her rendition of 'Dat Dere.' Rickie is a real stylist, and that's what I'm trying to do. So I have been honored to meet her and, now, move into more of a collaborative relationship.”
As for that relationship, Peyroux says Jones is “playful and childlike but hauntingly wise, just like her music. We will be doing duets together every show -- we might even share a ghetto blaster moment -- but I don't want to spoil it.”