Album #554 – Suzanne Vega

Album #554

I remember watching an interview a few years ago on YouTube that Suzanne Vega did with the NewMusic in 1987 and one thing stuck out. She said that being from New York, she always had to keep the crowds’ attention. If you were boring, you were ignored, she said. That says many things about her songwriting. Suzanne Vega may have a simple voice but, she can write in a class all her own. Her songs are never dull and boring. Vega came out of the Fast Folk scene of the early 80’s. It was a group of singer-songwriters who had no recording contacts and would appear on compilations for the Fast Folk Musical Magazine. Each month a new compilation would be released with the physical magazine, kind of like what Mojo and Q do now but, with original songs and new artists instead of compilations of previously released songs and covers. Fast Folk was also a launching pad for not only Vega but Tracy Chapman, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Michelle Shocked and even mainstream country star Suzy Bogguss. Some of their compilations are now available for streaming on Apple Music. This magazine paved the way for the late 80’s folk revival. Suzanne Vega was the first of these artists to have mainstream success. While her self-titled debut was not a hit in North America, it did sell well in the U.K. and gave Vega her first top 40 U.K. hit, Marlene on the Wall. The sound on this album is a mixture of the acoustic guitar (so prevalent in folk and singer-songwriter music) and 80’s instrumentation (synths, drums, bass, electric guitar). But, nothing is over produced here like it was on Two Wheels Good/Steve McQueen. The arrangements are just enough to keep the songs interesting but they don’t take away from Vega and her amazing lyrical prowess. One song on this album shows just how amazing a storyteller Vega is. The Queen and The Soldier is a song straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, I have the sneaking suspicion that Taylor Swift ripped Vega off in her song Love Story. The difference is that Vega pulls no punches. She can write about anything that moves her and on the follow-up, Solitude Standing, Vega broke through to the mainstream in North America for that reason.

Other highlights include: Freeze Tag, Small Blue Thing, Straight Lines, Undertow, Knight Moves and Neighborhood Girls.

Overall, I give Solitude Standing, 4.5 out of 5.

Next: Rum, Sodomy and the Lash by The Pogues

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