More gray than red

Reviewed by Jason Bretz

Reviewed by Jason Bretz

State Hornet

It has been five years since Suzanne Vega released “Nine Objects of Desire” and 13 years since her second album, “Luka,” launched her into commercial success on the strength of her acoustic guitar.

Vega?s new album, “Songs in Red and Gray,” is more of a return to the sound that fueled her career than it is a continuation of where she left off in 1996. Still, the years spent relying on studio production have made their mark on Vega, and she now seems unable to escape them, despite her desire to pick up a guitar again.

The album is her first since her separation from her husband, producer Mitchell Froom. Her rediscovered independence and freedom are clearly recognizable within the album, as Vega has reattached herself to the emotional drive of her own guitar playing.

Despite this new independence and a new producer, the album relies on the same studio production that dominated her last couple of projects. The promising beginnings of songs like “If I Were a Weapon” and “Solitaire” are quickly diluted by production keyboards and synthesized strings.

Along with allowing the album?s sound to be more under Vega?s direction, the divorce also armed Vega with the lyrical and emotional ammunition that drive the album?s themes. “Your Maggie May” details the reasons behind the loss of love, while she tries to forget the pain of the broken union during “Soap and Water.”

Still, the genuine and artful expression of those feelings is not enough to hide the lack of creativity that should exist as support for both her guitar and lyrical content. Although every song is built around Vega?s acoustic sounds, they are drowned in unimaginative drumbeats and tired keyboards.

If it were possible to somehow wade through the computer sound that engulfs Vega?s guitar and emotions, “Songs in Red and Gray” would be a refreshing addition to this singer?s spotted career.

Unfortunately, the synthesized ocean that overflows Vega?s folk roots is too massive to defeat.