Friday, February 3, 2017

Suzanne Vega 9: Close-Up

It’s common for musicians to release re-recorded versions of songs. It happened all the time in the standards era, so connoisseurs could compare how Frank Sinatra delivered a tune in his twenties to his approach decades later. Many live albums offer straight reproductions of hit singles and album tracks to adoring audiences. However, in an age when music can be shared and distributed faster, wider, and easier than ever, anytime an artist redoes his or her own music the cynical eyebrow is raised.
Suzanne Vega was very straightforward when she began her Close-Up series, which presented new recordings of her songs, chosen from her entire catalog, released in four thematic volumes. Her reasons were that some of her albums were out of print, and mass consolidation across the music industry didn’t guarantee future royalties from them. Therefore, new, mostly stripped-down renditions of songs she still liked playing would bring another opportunity to gets paid, yo.
We adore her voice, and wish we could hear her sing from the kitchen when it’s her turn to do the dishes, so we admit to a bias. Unlike other singers, her range is the same as it always was, though some of those high notes have been lost to a quarter-century. While some songs sound the same as ever, whether acoustic (“Small Blue Thing”, “Gypsy”) or electrically embellished (“Marlene On The Wall”), it’s more interesting to hear the ones rescued from busy production (“When Heroes Go Down”, everything from Nine Objects Of Desire). But she also keeps “(If You Were) In My Movie” and “Fat Man And Dancing Girl” close to their original clattering arrangements, and not exactly “stripped down”.
Each of the volumes has something to offer, and even had different bonus tracks, depending on where you bought them. Love Songs is the most successful; because it’s the first one, the novelty is new, but it also offers some of her prettiest tunes. People & Places, with its observations and speculations, is a little more embellished, and also has her two most famous songs in “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner”, the latter delivered closer to the style of the bootleg remix. The big draw is a version of “The Man Who Played God”, originally part of a collaboration with Danger Mouse and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. States Of Being covers “emotional turmoil”, and deviates least from the originals, with such embellishments as a string quartet and a new song in the way of the then-unreleased “Instant Of The Hour After”. Songs Of Family would appear to be her most personal songs, being inspired by her daughter, her divorce, her childhood, and her lineage. Mostly back to the original sparse brief, it includes three more produced “new” tracks, two of which were among the first songs she ever wrote.
That’s four albums that revisit most of her previous seven albums, with Days Of Open Hand being the least represented. The way to get it all would be Close-Up Series, a book-style package that includes each volume, plus another disc containing all the bonus tracks offered up on various digital platforms, and a live DVD. It would be, of course, if you can find it, as it’s gotten pricey.

Suzanne Vega Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs (2010)—
Suzanne Vega
Close-Up Vol. 2, People & Places (2010)—
Suzanne Vega
Close-Up Vol. 3, States Of Being (2011)—3
Suzanne Vega
Close-Up Vol. 4, Songs Of Family (2012)—
Suzanne Vega
Close-Up Series (2014)—3

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