Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers
published: 8 /
Richly constructed and emotionally intellectual album from much acclaimed New York-based singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega about the writer Carson McCullers
New York-based singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega has a lot to crow about this fall. She’ll be performing material from ‘Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers’ plus fan favourites when she embarks on her long-anticipated UK tour.
Vega is largely responsible for the American folk renaissance of the 1980s. Bestowed with a solid penchant for conveying human emotion through plaintive melodies and soulful phrasing, Vega can also boast a slew of other penetrating concept albums.
Previously she’s drawn from mythology, Hollywood and her native city, but this time she dedicates her original songs to her literary muse, for whom she also co-wrote a staged musical work.
The album includes opener, ‘Carson’s Blues’, which boasts incredible piano and Vega’s sultry overtures. “Fallen dear, that’s what they call me/But I’m an iron butterfly,” she sings haughtily. Underneath the confidence, though, lies a strong vulnerability: “You’ve got to understand/I’ve never belonged.”
‘New York is My Destination’ is dedicated to urban pride. “New York is meant for grander things, just like me.” It’s an avant garde samba that sheds light on public perception.
Is Vega alluding to the bump and grind of Broadway in ‘Instant of the Hour After’? There is a sweet Sondheim melancholia and Jacques Brel-ian pathos here that makes the arrangement irresistible. “The show is over now/The monkey is dead,” she sings, with perfect tonality and a certain blasé. “How I love you/How I loathe you,” she concludes, torn in two with angst as the lovely piano rolls underneath.
‘We of Me’ features Gary Leonard’s powerful, clanky guitar. “The world is a subtle place if you don’t belong to anything,” she asserts. As the underlying theme is about McCullers and her migration to New York after experiencing the horrors of racism in the American South, it seems fitting that the songs frequently refer to having an identity crisis. Vega does a great job expressing the human struggle with her inflection.
The texture shifts to Baroque-style piano for ‘Annemarie,’ which is a beautiful, insightful ballad. “If I could see God, his face would be sacred like yours,” she sings, about the perplexing protagonist. “I knew you’d haunt me for the rest of my life…”
’12 Mortal Men’ is a darkly thematic and swampy blues. Leonard’s precision and sense of empathy reigns supreme.
‘Harper Lee’ contains hilarious literary references to Hemingway, Proust, Fitzgerald and more,written from the pained writer’s point of view. “Why do they always compare her to me?” The title song, ‘Lover, Beloved’ is enhanced with spare, Satie-like eloquence on the keys. Vega approaches her most expressive zenith.
‘The Ballad of Miss Amelia’ is as American as country-fried steak. Vega uses a songwriting structure that would make Woody Guthrie salivate. The story becomes more and more complex and hilarious as her stone-faced rendering continues on. Be prepared for a clever twist at the end.
“Drink to the raptures of Eros’ first kiss,” Vega sings plaintively. You can certainly imagine her raising a frosted glass to this hearty closer.
Vega has often delighted fans through the exploration of tender themes and bittersweet insights, but ‘Lover, Beloved’ shows us an angle that has been slightly hidden beneath the surface, and that has joyfully tumbled out.
New York Is My Destination
Instant Of The Hour After
We Of Me
12 Mortal Men
The Ballad Of Miss Amelia
Carson's Last Supper