Suzanne Vega

Close-Up, Vol. 4: Songs of Family

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Suzanne Vega concludes her series of albums reexamining her songbook with Close-Up, Vol. 4: Songs of Family, and given the album's themes, it's appropriate that this is the most spare and intimate installment in this mostly acoustic series. These 14 songs all deal with familial relationships, albeit in many different ways, from a sly contemplation of her marriage ("Honeymoon Suite") to studying the emotional fallout of her divorce ("Soap and Water"), from meeting her biological father for the first time ("Pilgrimage") to revisiting the neighborhood where she grew up ("Ludlow Street"), while also finding room to celebrate her love for her daughter ("World Before Columbus") and the grim tale of another child whose relationship with her folks is not as rosy ("Bad Wisdom"). Vega (who served as her own producer) and her musical director Gerry Leonard have given all the albums in this series a clean and uncluttered sound, but Songs of Family aims for an even more Spartan approach, and while multi-instrumentalist Leonard had added some artful accompaniment on several tracks, the music is subtle even at its most passionate, and Vega's vocals and lyrics are front and center throughout; in her liner notes, Vega declares this album "has the folkiest sound of the four volumes," and that suits these songs quite well. Like the previous three Close-Up albums, Songs of Family is dominated by songs Vega has recorded before, but this set also features three songs that have never before appeared on one of her albums. "The Silver Lady" is a fantasy tale Vega first wrote as a teenager, "Brother Mine" is another bit of juvenilia that's clever and charming, and "Daddy Is White" is a blunt but perceptive autobiographical sketch of how racial attitudes shaped her own upbringing. (The song first surfaced as a demo recording Vega posted along with an essay for The New York Times.) Like its siblings, Close-Up, Vol. 4: Songs of Family may not connect with casual fans happy to hold on to the original versions of these songs, but the subtle but real emotional gravity of these new performances is impressive, and at in its best moments Vega has found fresh life and depth in these reinterpretations; this is stronger and more affecting work than most artists achieve when they give their songs a second try in the studio.

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