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On Beauty & Crime, Suzanne Vega's Blue Note Records debut, the Manhattan
native uses New York City as the backdrop for a collection of eleven new
songs that juxtapose acoustic guitar-driven melodies with coolly synthesized
beats; intensely personal lyrics with compelling, short story-like narratives;
images of today's scarred cityscape with memories of Vega's old Upper West
Side hood and Lower East Side haunts. "I feel like I really stretched
my limits. I pushed myself out of my comfort zoneto sing in keys I
wouldn't have sung in before, to work with different textures, to be unafraid
of doing what ever sounded good to me. I wanted to make a modern classic."
In Vega's new material, New York City emerges on its own as subject and
setting. "My last album came out two weeks after September 11th. That
particular album was really personal and it felt really weird to be talking
about all these personal songs at a time that wasn't like any other in New
York... I spent a lot of time thinking about things in the last six years,
being in New York with my daughter, walking around. It seemed natural to
write a bunch of songs that were about New York or little stories that had
New York as a character."
She includes a gentle, elegantly arranged song capturing an image of her
daughter at age nine ("As You Are Now"), a meditation on the impossible/irresistible
relationship between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner ("Frank & Ava")
and a turbulent, string-driven number ("Bound") about the fated
reunion with the man who would become her second husband, a street poet
turned civil rights lawyer.
Vega began working on Beauty & Crime at home, but soon enlisted the
help of engineer Britt Myers to help. They moved to his studio, exchanged
ideas and developed tracks before British musician-producer Jimmy Hogarth
(Sia, Corinne Bailey Rae, KT Tunstall) came on board and Vega resumed work
at studios in New York and London. "I wanted something that did have
a slight nostalgic feeling, which you get at the beginning of New
York is a Woman' with the clarinet and saxophone, a certain horn sound.
But I didn't want to lose all the textures and rhythms that are going on
today, all the effects and things that you could do. I wanted to take bits
and pieces and put them together in a collage kind of way, which is what
feels modern to me right now."
As fascinating as the New Yorkers she has been inspired by, Vega herself
is full of stories and surprises: the everyday revelations, the grabbed-on-the-run
wisdom, the strange, random, miraculous stuff that make up a singular career
or maybe just another life in the big city.