Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers
There’s something calming, soothing, reassuring about Suzanne Vega’s voice. That’s been the constant in a career of solid-to-brilliant albums where she’s diversified hugely from that initial “folk-revival” template. From the icy electric guitar treatments on her first album through the 80s-beatnik phase, to touches of lite-jazz and then heavy industrial textures around a breathy delivery. In recent years she’s really been making music for Suzanne Vega fans, which is maybe all she’s ever been doing – and I’m certainly glad she’s still doing that. And now, doing this: the music from a one-woman show about the writer Carson McCullers.
Think Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs for Drella perhaps. But it also sounds – even with the most literary title going – like a Suzanne Vega album. A Suzanne Vega album with that gorgeous voice singing thoughtful lyrics (Lover, Beloved), A Suzanne Vega album with a playful jazziness to it (New York Is My Destination) and a Suzanne Vega album with those little moments of mood and melody that only she can conjure (Annemarie, Instant of The Hour After). Heck, on We of Me she even recalls – instantly – the “classic” sound of Solitude Standing.
All this while inhabiting the McCullers character – in a rewrite or a rewrite of a play that Vega first created as a youngster. In 2011 she performed the show. Now she returns to the studio to capture the original songs from it.
It’s most things you could ever want from Ms. Vega (beautiful balladry, wry, tender, thoughtful lyrics) and then it has these in-character sketches (The Ballad of Miss Amelia) which hint at new directions, while recalling her best work from her best albums (Solitude and Nine Objects of Desire).
There’s a lot to unpack here, lyrically, in just 10 songs across 33 minutes. It might seem off-putting. But dive in. That voice will reassure you, will guide the songs and hold your hand. This is lovely. And smart. Well, those aspects have been constants across the career too of course.