Years before launching her career as a pop-rock soul singer, Madeleine Besson took her first violin lesson at two years old. By age four, she was playing piano. By her teenage years, she'd also grown into a classical vocalist, Beatles fanatic, multi-instrumentalist, and film actress, swirling together a number of artistic influences — from popular music to Baroque compositions to film scores — that would eventually inspire her own diverse songwriting.
Those songwriting skills reach a new peak with Journey Home, Besson's second album of original material. Produced in Nashville by guitar hero Dave Coleman, it's a moody, melodic record, filled with blue notes, slow-burning soul songs, and plenty of electric guitar accompaniment. Driving the mix forward is Besson's voice: an elastic instrument that swoons one minute and swaggers the next, channeling influences like Etta James, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles along the way.
Bookended by two songs about home (the album's gorgeous opener, "Going Home," and its atmospheric closer, "Home"), Journey Home is a record about departures and destinations. Besson has plenty of experience with both. Born in Paris, France, she grew up on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, touring the world with her mother — a European film director with a steady stream of gigs in Hollywood, France, and other markets — and her father, who directed theater productions. It was a nomadic existence spent on the road, on movie sets, in the wings of world-class theaters, and in the company of first-rate artists. No wonder Besson wasted little time exploring her own creative instincts, painting, collages one minute and scoring films the next
When she moved to Nashville as an adult, Besson discovered a new home. There was a familiar kind of energy in Nashville, a music-filled town whose pace reminded Besson of her own creative upbringing. She found even more comfort in herself, embracing not only her new surroundings, but a newfound sort of inner peace, as well.
"The album is about taking a journey back to your own heart," she says. "It's about my personal journey of leaving France, coming to Nashville, and finding my home in music. Finding my sound. Finding peace within, too. Wherever we are, that's our home. There's some real depth to that idea — to the idea that we can have unconditional love and support for ourselves — and that's how I approached the songs on this album."
Released in 2018, Journey Home is a follow-up to Besson's 2014 debut, Blossom. She'd recorded Blossom in Europe, working with Portishead's Jim Barr in Bristol, UK before teaming up with two additional producers, David Coulter (The Pogues) and Jean-Alain Roussel (Cat Stevens, Bob Marley), in Paris. Shining a light on Besson's strength as a live performer — a skill she had already sharpened on the road, where she opened for acts like Cyndi Lauper — the album was recorded quickly, with Besson tracking her vocals for 11 songs in a single day.
Journey Home is a different animal. This time around, Besson limited the album's recording process to a single location — Dave Coleman's home studio in East Nashville — and embraced a new challenge of arranging each song on the spot, minutes before recording its final version. It was a creative process that relied on instinct and intuition. It also relied heavily on Besson's multi-instrumental skills.
"It was just Dave and I in the studio," she remembers. "He played most of the guitars, the bass, and drums. I did all the keys, piano, organ, Wurlitzer, violin, strings, vocals, and some guitar, too. We made sure to leave enough space for the vocals to really shine through. I've got a big voice — I can belt when I need to —but I didn't want to go there all the time. You can express so many things with your voice when you're subtle and nuanced, and that's what we wanted to do. That's what the songs told us to do."
An album about homecomings, heartaches, hellos, and goodbyes, Journey Home is Madeleine Besson's finest work to date — the peak of an artistic career that's flourished for decades, across multiple disciplines and several continents. It's intimately personal at points and universal at others, with songs like "With You" shining a light on the thrill of breaking down barriers between you and your common man. Besson calls it "a song about togetherness and going through the darkness to finally find peace with one another, to transcend our shadows and reconnect with our own heart."
"Journey Home is the journey to our own home, and finding peace and joy within," she adds. "It's also the story of going through life, encountering obstacles, overcoming them, and finding love with everything."
Finally, the album — like all good art, from films to paintings to music — serves a higher purpose.
"Music is one of the highest vibrational energies that you can have on the planet," Besson emphasizes. "That's a life mission of mine — to put this music out into the world, and use it to connect with people. It's beauty for the people. With everything going on in the world right now, we need it."