This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.
With that warm, slightly husky voice of hers – not unlike that of an old friend at the other end of the telephone – Suzanne Vega has always been one of those singers I’d happily listen to reading the Yellow Pages. To be honest, there are parts of the often mystical, always curious Tales From the Queen of Pentacles that would probably have been easier to understand if she had done, even if the names in Vega’s directory turned out to be as ill-fitting as Mother Teresa, the Knight of Wands and Macklemore.
It’s an interesting one to unwrap, this first collection of new material in seven years, from its new-agey title (although when the eponymous Queen shows up, on radio-friendly rollicker “Fool’s Complaint”, it’s apparent Vega is not a fan) to that much-trumpeted 50 Cent sample. From the fuss, it’s as if the world has forgotten that to a whole generation, Vega was usually the one being sampled and remixed – and it’s not as if the flurry of atmospheric strings that opens it is even the weirdest thing about the song. “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain” also features Macklemore discovering a bottled genie in his Grammy-winning thrift shop and a chaotic spoken-word breakdown which might be the folky songstress paying tribute to her hip hop heroes. It’s either the best thing I’ve heard so far this year or utterly horrible.
Vega has described the album as a coming together of the material and spiritual worlds. Some of the ways that she chooses to express that idea are as cloying and ultimately forgettable as the smoke from one of those novelty incense burners, but it’s a small price to pay for songs as beautiful as “Silver Bridge”, an understated tribute to a deceased friend that ranks among her strongest work. The mischievous lyrics to the rocky “I Never Wear White” (“white is for virgins … my colour is black, for the crone and the bastard”) provide the album’s light relief, and the bouncy refrain billed as “Stoic 2” its most melodically perfect moment.
Also this week: I don’t normally use this space for EPs, but Frank Turner’s “Polaroid Picture” features covers of songs by artists I love including Frightened Rabbit and the Weakerthans, and therefore you should get it bought. If you’re after a longer listen there’s Stopping Distance, the third album from Scottish singer-songwriter type Jack James; and Swedish riot grrl inspired raucousness from Vulkano.
Gig of the week: Excitement for our friends at Pop!South’s indiepop Day and a Halfer is building – so much so that, in fact, there are only tickets for the Sunday left. But that’s fine, because you’re still getting Adam Ross of Randolph’s Leap, LYG favourites The Strangers Almanac and Total Hero Team, ft. MJ Hibbett, for your money.