Songs in Red and Gray
Suzanne Vega is a national treasure, and one that’s been sorely missed in the five years since her last effort, 1996’s Nine Objects of Desire. As ever, Ms. Vega is a consumate storyteller, and Songs in Red and Gray finds Ms. Vega using her deceptively simple melodies, her distinctive and clear voice, and gentle, mostly acoustic songs to tell what seem to be some of her most intensely personal tales to date. It’s easy to read between the lines of songs like “Widow’s Walk,” “Soap And Water,” and “Song in Red and Gray” and relate the tales to her divorce from her longtime producer, Mitchell Froom, and even its effects on the couple’s young daughter. This personal angle makes the songs even more compelling and meaningful, making for an album that reaches down to your soul. The gentle, quiet nature of the songs also makes it ideal rainy day listening, making the album’s title apt, indeed.
Taking Froom’s place as a producer is an unenviable task, but Rupert Hine succeeds admirably, getting a very clean, stripped down, and clear sound from most of these songs, with only “Solitaire” seeming anything like a nod to the work Vega did with Froom. In a sense, it’s a return to Vega’s roots; while the showier production on albums like 99.9Âº F made for some impressive and memorable tracks, this simpler approach hearkens all the way back to Vega’s first album, when she made such a compelling splash with “Marlene on the Wall.” It’s a reaffirmation that while the musical marriage Vega and Froom had yielded some intriguing results, Vega is more than capable of stunning work all on her own (as anyone who’s seen her live can attest — especially if you’ve had the rare opportunity to catch her in an intimate, acoustic setting).
And lest you think the album is mired in nothing but bleak, folky tales of a failed marriage, take a listen to the courageous, defiant “(I’ll Never Be) Your Maggie Mae,” the moodily symbolic “It Makes Me Wonder,” the sprightly “Last Year’s Troubles,” the eerie-sounding “If I Were a Weapon,” or the wistful, whimsical “Machine Ballerina” to see that this record actually has many different moods. Songs in Red and Gray is both compellingly new and comfortably familiar, and a quiet triumph for an artist who’s been away far too long. Welcome back, Suzanne — it’s good to hear from you again.