Tales From The Realm Of The Qu
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'Vega's first new studio album in seven years, features ten new songs each telling a story that has to do with the material world and the world of the spirit and how they intersect. Suzanne spent the past few years writing and recording these new gems on the road, recording portions in Chicago, London, Prague, LA and New York City, and Kyserike Station, an old train station in upstate New York. Tracking for the album took place mostly at the Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, and the album was mixed by Kevin Killen, who has worked with Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. "A lot of my older albums, especially the second one, were about being solitary. This album has more of a sense of connectivity, there is a different spirit". Queen of Pentacles taps into Vegas broad range of musical tastes, intertwining Dylan/Stones inspired guitar-driven songs with lush orchestral strings and trumpet, soul-packed background vocals and Vegas masterful classic folk elements. A fan of hip hop as well, Vega samples the 50 Cent hit song Candy Shop for one of the more unique tracks on the album, Dont Uncork What You Cant Contain. This is Suzannes first sampling effort " although her song Toms Diner has been interpolated countless times in the hip-hop community, she has not sampled anyone else until this album.
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I find the album's title slightly off-putting and wasn't sure what to expect as a result, but in fact the Queen Of Pentacles features in the excellent Fool's Complaint as an archetype of a selfish, self-regarding and self-obsessed modern woman. It's a great, rocking, tuneful track. Others are also upbeat and rhythmically powerful but there's a good variety of moods here: Portrait Of The Knight Of Wands is much more atmospheric and haunting, for example.
Production is generally fairly full but beautifully judged, allowing each song to shine. (I'd be very interested to hear these given the Close Up treatment, by the way - I think they'd probably stand up very well.) It's often not easy to say what a Suzanne Vega song is "about" and that's true here, too, but they are rich in language and allusion and are challenging and thought-provoking in that typically Vega way. I found her re-telling of Jacob And The Angel quite remarkable, and it moves me and makes me think as much as the Epstein statue does - which is really saying something.
This is a fine collection of songs, every one of which stands on its merits; I don't think there's a genuinely weak track on the album, although personally I'm less keen on the opener, Crack In The Wall. (Mind you, over 25 years on I am still embarrassed that I thought Tom's Diner wasn't all that good when I first heard Solitude Standing. It took me quite a while to realise that it's an absolute classic, so what do I know?)
I think this will probably stand as a very good Suzanne Vega album - it may even be among her best. It's certainly very good and does full justice to one of the finest singer/songwriters of the last 30 years. Very warmly recommended.
As always with Suzanne, the lyrics are really fascinating and highly original. The melodies are also great with guitarist and producer Gerry Leonard giving a tougher texture to the sound.
Current favourites include Don't Cork What You Can't Contain, Fool's Complaint and I Never Wear White. Horizon also features a beautiful trumpet solo from Alison Balsom.
There is also the really moving Song Of The Stoic, which from what I understand, is a continuation of the character Luka, following him into adult life. It really took my breath away when I first heard that one.
A really memorable CD and will be enjoyed by anyone who likes her other work. Nearly 30yrs since her debut, I'd argue she is a really important artist who deserves serious acclaim both for her words and music.
Having parted company with her long-time label A&M after 2001's Songs in Red and Gray, she then signed with Blue Note who released her next album, Beauty and Crime. Although it garnered good reviews and sold over 100,000 copies she was later dropped by them, so Vega, like many other artists before her, decided the best way to secure her musical future was to form her own record label.
Her first releases on this label were four albums called Close Up, issued between 2010 and 2012. They contained re-recorded versions of a large part of her back catalogue (partly done, as she admits, to make some money from her songs which were originally recorded, and now owned by, the major labels).
Although it's been a long time coming, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, is classic Vega - full of her trademark lyrics and haunting vocals. But although there's plenty of typically introspective songs, there's also the odd echo of the harder edge from one of her earlier albums, present on the lead single from Germany and France - "I Never Wear White". It has a harsh guitar sound harking back to the style of some of her 1992 album 99.9 F°.
"Don't Uncork What You Can't Contain" - the lead single in the US - sees her first attempt at sampling (although DNA had great success by sampling her on "Tom's Diner") with a snippet taken from 50 Cent's "Candy Shop". Although the sampling has been somewhat newsworthy, it's still very much a Suzanne Vega song, the sample just adds a slightly different flavour to the soundscape.
"Fools Complaint" - the lead single in the UK - treads more familiar ground, indeed it bears more than a passing resemblance to "I'll Never Be Your Maggie May" from Songs in Red and Gray.
Other highlights include "Portrait of the Knight of Wands" which starts off as archetypal Vega - acoustic guitar and crisp vocals - to which subtle electronic effects are added in the middle of the track. "Silver Bridge" about the death of a friend has a sparse - but effective - production which, like most songs here, could comfortably sit on any of her previous albums. Song of the Stoic is another strong track, essentially it's Luka part 2, which continues his story (or someone similar) several decades after the original song.
Clocking in at a shade under 37 minutes, produced by Gerry Leonard and featuring several well known guest players such as Gail Ann Dorsey, Zachary Alford, Sterling Campbell and Tony Levin, this is an album that will be sure to appeal to her fanbase. Whether there's anything here to attract new listeners in any numbers is debatable, but newcomers could do worse than to start here. Whilst she may increasingly be a hidden treasure, she is a treasure nonetheless - and this album has plenty of moments that showcase her strengths. Highly recommended.
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