Madeleine Peyroux showcased the supremacy of a powerful song — and the remarkable instrument the human voice can be — at the Berklee Performance Center Tuesday night. She may be young, but her smoky vocals bear an uncanny resemblance to the late Billie Holiday’s. Her wise, emotionally resonant renditions of blues and country standards manage to evoke the Parisian cafes in which Peyroux came of age as a performer, while showcasing her passion for the improvisational spirit of jazz.
Peyroux sounded uncertain as she began her set with the quixotic love song ”Dance Me to the End of Love,” which also opened her 2004 comeback album, ”Careless Love.” But she quickly warmed up, and while her voice is a bit rougher live than recorded, her loose, intuitive delivery makes her a dynamic performer.
Backed by a crack jazz trio featuring piano, upright bass, and drums, Peyroux, on guitar, played most of her latest album, including her inspired cover of Bob Dylan’s ”You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and the slyly romantic drinking song ”Between the Bars.”
Even in her luminous dress, Peyroux had a casual, tomboyish presence onstage, and her amusing between-song banter included her dedication of ”Don’t Wait Too Long” to the Democratic Party. She moved deftly from the lilting French of Josephine Baker’s ”J’ai Deux Amours” to the Dixieland swing of ”Careless Love” and the twang of Patsy Cline’s ”Walkin’ After Midnight,” imbuing this oft-covered classic with fresh longing.
For her encore, Peyroux invited opener Martha Wainwright out for an impromptu, good-natured duet, backing Wainwright’s vaulting vocals with ardent harmonies and finger-picked guitar. Wainwright’s opening performance, featuring subtle upright bass and piano, found her vamping and emoting through a set of witty, dark originals from her 2005 self-titled debut.