Monday, December 19, 2005

Suzanne Vega - Songs in Red and Gray

Visualize some of the most beautiful music you will ever hear. Imagine the most meticulously arranged compositions layered with Suzanne Vega's rich vocals and you have what is arguably her best work. Songs in Red and Gray is Suzanne's latest album released way back in 2001 - a masterpiece of lyrical and melodic proportions.

Most of the songs were written five years after Nine Objects of Desire and more importantly some time after Ms. Vega's divorce from her husband, Mitchell Froom. So I kind of expected this to be a brooding, sad, angst-filled compilation. Not so. Some of the tracks can even be described as light-hearted and uplifting.

My personal favorite musical piece in this CD is Widow's Walk wherein the singer describes her situation metaphorically to that of being widowed, but looks ahead to a better future:

Consider me a widow boy
And I will tell you why
It's not the man, but it's the marriage
That was drowned

So I walk the walk
And wait with watchful eye out to the sky
Looking for a kind of vessel
I have never found

This is the most powerful song in the CD and an instant classic. I hope they make an instrumental version of this with a true orchestra to capture the rich layers and full beauty of the music.

Another fantastic song is the aptly titled Last Year's Troubles, an interesting take on how we romanticize and glorify century-old villains such as pirates, thieves, and other rascals. Now these were downright evil and nasty people in their time, yet we look back at them fondly, retelling history to a more sentimental, quixotic, unrealistic degree. I also suspect the whole song is a metaphor to letting go of a troublesome year that has past. This is one of my favorite songs lyrically.

Last year's troubles are so old fashioned
The robber on the highway the pirate on the seas
Maybe it's the clothing that's so entertaining
The earrings and swashbuckling blouses that please

Look at all the waifs of Dickensian England
Why is it their suffering is more picturesque?
Must be cause their rags are so very Victorian
The ones here at home just don't give it their best

Last years troubles they shine up so pretty
They gleam with a luster they don't have today
Here it's just dirty and violent and troubling
Etc. etc.

Other tracks are more of the songwriter's editorial take on her predicament. For instance, 'Soap and Water' is a letter from a mother to her young daughter. 'If I Were a Weapon' seems to be about some sort of emotional blackmail with the weapon in this case being the tool of the extortionist.

It's as if Suzanne combined all the best parts of her previous work. She put together the folk sound of her earlier CDs, together with the style and arrangement of Nine Objects of Desire. If this album had a weakness, it would be that it could sound too over-engineered, too carefully arranged, leaving the human touch distant from the listener. But this is a very minor nitpick. If you like finely produced, high quality easy listening music, this one is for you.

Rating: 5 out 5 stars * * * * *
One of the best

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