by Josef Woodard

WORLDLY/LOCAL WOES: Oh mama, can this really be
the end — to be stuck inside Santa Barbara with those Beverly Hills
blues again? On a bad day in this town, it seems the place is
sinking into the seething eddies of affluence, arrogance, and
ignorance. Santa Barbara long-timers and lifers (sentenced to a
life spent here, convinced that anywhere else on the planet would
pale by comparison) wonder how the place became so alien.

How is it, for instance, that so much ill-informed negative
public energy has been aimed at the inspiring State of the Art
Gallery public art program, which has boldly (but not too boldly)
placed provocative (but not too provocative) sculptures along State
Street? How is it possible that the huffy honchos at McDonald’s
have taken offense at Colin Gray’s harmless “W,” which is more
about George W. Bush than McDonald’s? The corporation ought to cut
a check to Gray for selecting their logo as a universally
understood visual emblem, and for supplying the fat food … er, fast
food, chain with free publicity and even bogus martyrdom bragging

(It is true that McDonald’s and Bush share top billing among
things Americans abroad often apologize for to their non-American
acquaintances, but that’s another subject.)

SONGBIRD’S CROOKED FLIGHT: Those who have heard
the buzz about Madeleine Peyroux louder than the music itself might
experience twinges of perfectly reasonable doubt, given the nature
of hype and next-big-thing phenoms. But once you’ve really heard
Peyroux, and really gotten her, you have to succumb to the growing
love fest. She’s the real deal, a singer with something to say, and
a way of saying it that dips deeply into history while sneaking
through some secret passageway to the present and even the future.
She’s got it all covered, but acts like a busker who just came in
from the cold with a pocket full of wisdoms she picked up on her

Basically, Peyroux is not the next big thing, but the next small
and subtle thing, who undersells herself even to the point of
sometimes seeming diffident. Her periodic Billie Holiday-esque
mannerisms — yes, there’s no mistaking them — are assets, not
liabilities. She inhabits those nuances and swoops around a note or
phrase to beguiling and personalized ends. She also taps into the
quavering vulnerability of Lady Day in her own, more folky

Last year, Peyroux suddenly found herself in a fast lane of
touring and selling her fabulous Careless Love album, and this
after having her 1996 major label debut slip quickly into
obscurity. Now comes her next step, Half the Perfect World
(Rounder), and another tour, which brings her back to Campbell Hall
next Wednesday. A year ago, Peyroux played in this hall, fresh off
the Monterey Jazz Festival, and she projected the fragile persona
and depths we’ve already come to love about her.

Half the Perfect World is an album that draws you in on first
listen, and draws you ever deeper on each successive spin. This
album is chock-full of haunting, beautiful, and affirmative stuff,
opening with the reassuring “I’m All Right,” but then posing
melancholic questions on songs like the new Leonard Cohen gem “Blue
Alert” and the title cut, cult hero Serge Gainsbourg’s swirly waltz
“La Javanaise,” and a fresh version of Joni Mitchell’s classic
“River” (in duet with k.d. lang, who sings in big tones compared to
Peyroux’s softer but equally powerful ones). Her woozy version of
“Everybody’s Talking” lends that song a new patina of mystery.
Ditto the dreamy closer, a take on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” The
album’s production is simple and clean, often built around
Peyroux’s supple rhythm guitar and sometimes colored by discreet
orchestrations, but always sensitive to the heart of the
matter — Peyroux’s entrancing way with a song.

After getting lost in Peyroux, the world of the Bushes and
McDonald’s seem a world away. That’s entertainment, of the deep
sort. (Got e?


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