A Love Story Unfolds: Suzanne Vega Makes it in Manhattan

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Suzanne Vega | An Evening Of New York Songs and Stories | (Amanuensis/Cooking Vinyl)
Four out of Five Stars

Like many artists of a similar stature, folk chanteuse Suzanne Vega made her mark early on with a few signature songs, all of which were a testament to her serenity and sensitivity. Whether it’s the desire to give her audience what they want at the outset, or simply a need to dispense with them quickly to quell anticipation, two of the best known, “Luka” and “Marlene on the Wall,” lead off this live set of songs recorded at New York’s Cafe Carlyle. Rather, it’s Vega’s love of  the Big Apple that gets the full focus, both through the nuanced narratives she shares between songs and most of the music that dominates this outing overall. While she tosses one more “hit” in later in the set, an obligatory take on “Tom’s Diner,” nearly all the numbers pay homage to Manhattan — some in reverential tones (“New York Is a Woman,” “Ludlow Street,” “New York Is My Destination” among the most apparent) — and others that reference the city in a more subtle and suggestive context (“Frank and Ava,” Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”).


Regardless of which tack she takes, Vega’s infatuation is obvious, and while she thankfully resists the temptation to reprise “New York, New York” one more time, the sentiment she shares is similar. With a small supporting ensemble offering plying that subtle suggestion, the music suggests the intimacy of a small late night supper club, all dim lights save the singer standing in  the spotlight. One can practically hear the clink of the cocktail glasses besides. But though it’s a casual affair, each song leaves a mark, from her vibrant take on “”Marlene on the Wall” and a still tender and touching “Luka,” to the sensual sway of “Some Journey,” the serendipitous sound of “Pornographer’s Dream” and spunky suggestion himmering through “Tombstone.” The richness of the tones and textures provides a decided allure, given added charm through Vega’s personality and perspective.

In many ways An Evening Of New York Songs and Stories could be considered a reboot for an artist whose output has been relatively sparse in recent years. And yet, with age and maturity, she’s found her fit with an audience that’s happy to gave grown along with her. Few artists are so capable of making music that allows intimacy to emote so expressively.

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