Live albums can be a bit of a lottery as regards audio quality and if it really is a true record of that band or artist live, or if a lot of what you hear was actually created in the studio after the event.
Singer-songwriter artist’s gigs on live recordings can be even trickier to capture at their best, as the whole essence of the more intimate venue setting is the emotion that those songs and that artist connects with on the night.
Also important is the reciprocal energy shared between the artist and their audience in that room at that concert. Nothing worse than canned OTT applause on a live record!
We all want to feel like that artist is singing to us. We need those lyrics to apply to our lives and to our heartbreak and to our joy and to our survival. Can that be conveyed on a recording?
Can that audio capture that electric atmosphere where you could hear a pin drop on the night, or replicate the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end when they sing and play your favourite track? Where the singer serves the song and shows us what emotions sound like. It seems like a dying art.
But every now and again, a live record comes along that does all of the above and a lot more. Offering a faultless performance, offering up all the hits and a lot more, and puts the listener sat at home, right there in those seats in that venue at that very concert on that very night.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the legendary Suzanne Vega’s latest album: “An Evening Of New York Songs and Stories” out on 11th September via Cooking Vinyl. It is very special indeed.
It has that intimacy that is so often missing from live albums. Recorded live at the Café Carlyle in New York City in early 2019 and featuring New York resident Suzanne Vega and her band; long-time guitarist Gerry Leonard, bassist Jeff Allen and keyboardist Jamie Edwards.
A born story-teller and with an innate soulfulness to her voice – which at 61-years-old sounds no different to the 1980s – that blurs boundaries between folk and jazz, and does not need labels.
It’s just Ms. Vega doing her classy and sophisticated thing, effortlessly as usual – her skills beautifully presented by producer Gerry Leonard. The live recording was engineered by Fernando Lodeiro, mixed by Kevin Killen and mastered by the legendary Bob Ludwig.
On this 16-track collection, Suzanne revisits some of the most iconic songs in her repertoire as well as more hidden gems. Of course, her timeless biggest hits, “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” are included.
Great friend Lou Reed…
Plus deep cuts from her catalogue like “Frank and Ava” and “Ludlow Street”. The mix of repertoire also features the two singles taken from the album.
Those singles are: “New York Is My Destination” from “Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers”, Vega’s one-woman play about the Southern Gothic novelist Carson McCullers, and a fabulous cover of her late friend Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” Watch the official video for that track, below….
Widely regarded as one of the foremost songwriters of her generation, Vega emerged as a leading figure of the folk-music revival of the early 1980s.
Since the release of her self-titled, critically acclaimed 1985 debut album, she has written and recorded numerous evergreen songs such as “Luka,” “Marlene on the Wall” and “Tom’s Diner.”
The ear-worm “Tom’s Diner”, as an a cappella piece, was remixed by U.K. electronic dance duo DNA and became a major club hit.
The Grammy and Peabody Award-winning artist’s albums, including her self-titled debut, the follow up, “Solitude Standing” and “99.9F” have sold millions of copies worldwide.
She was most recently seen in the cast of the Off-Broadway production “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice”.
In celebration of her new album, Suzanne will play a handful of live UK dates in February 2021:
Saturday 6 February 2021 | BRIGHTON Theatre Royal
Sunday 7 February 2021 | LONDON Barbican
Monday 8 February 2021 | LIVERPOOL Philharmonic
Wednesday 10 February 2021 | BIRMINGHAM Town Hall
Speaking about the new live album, Suzanne says: “It is always a pleasure to play at the Café Carlyle in New York City, where this album was recorded. It is a small exclusive club that has hosted legends from Eartha Kitt to Judy Collins, and is also known to be the place where Jackie Kennedy met Audrey Hepburn.
“I love it for its bohemian old-world glamour! I decided it would be fun to perform a New York-themed show there.
“I included songs that were inspired by New York City or for which New York provided the backdrop, and also one by my late, great friend, Lou Reed: ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, a song I rarely heard him sing himself”.
Track Listing for the album:
- Marlene on the Wall
- New York is a Woman
- Frank and Ava
- Freeze Tag
- Pornographer’s Dream
- New York Is My Destination
- Walk on the Wild Side
- Ludlow Street
- Some Journey
- Tom’s Diner
- Thin Man
Suzanne Vega was born in Santa Monica, CA, but grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side of New York City. Influenced by her mother, a computer systems analyst and her stepfather, the Puerto Rican writer Egardo Vega Yunque.
A mix of multicultural music playing at home: Motown, bossa nova, jazz and folk. At the age of 11, she picked up a guitar and as a teenager she started to write songs.
Having studied dance at the High School for the Performing Arts, she later attended Barnard College where she majored in English Literature and minored in theatre. In 1979, after attending a concert by Lou Reed, she began to find her true artistic voice and distinctive vision for contemporary folk.
…little prospect of commercial success…
A receptionist by day, she would hang out at the Greenwich Village Songwriter’s Exchange by night. Soon she was playing iconic venues like The Bottom Line and Folk City. The word was out and audiences were catching on.
At first, record companies saw little prospect of commercial success. Vega’s demo tape was rejected by every major record company, and twice by the very label that eventually signed her. Her self-titled debut album was finally released by A&M in 1985, co-produced by Steve Addabbo and Lenny Kaye, guitarist for Patti Smith.
One million records later, it was clear that Vega’s voice was resonating around the world. “Marlene on the Wall” was a surprise hit in the U.K.
1987’s follow-up, “Solitude Standing”, again co-produced by Addabbo and Kaye, elevated her to star status. The album hit #2 in the U.K. and #11 in the States, was nominated for three Grammy awards (including Record of the Year) and went platinum in the U.S., selling three million copies worldwide.
“Luka” is likely the only hit song ever written from the perspective of an abused boy. Vega continues to support children’s and human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Casa Alianza and Covenant House.
The opening song on Solitude Standing was an a cappella piece, “Tom’s Diner,” about a nondescript restaurant near Columbia University. Without Vega’s permission, it was remixed by U.K. electronic dance duo DNA and bootlegged as “Oh Susanne.”
Suddenly Vega’s voice was showing up in the most unlikely setting of all: the club. She permitted an official release of the remix of “Tom’s Diner” under its original title, which reached #5 on the US Billboard pop chart and went gold.
In 1991, she brought the remix and other unsolicited versions of the song together in a compilation called Tom’s Album. Vega also holds the distinction of being christened “Mother of the MP3” by the technology’s creator, who used her recording of “Tom’s Diner” to refine its compression algorithm.
Vega co-produced her follow-up album with Anton Sanko, 1990’s “Days of Open Hand”. The album featured a string arrangement by composer Philip Glass.
Continuing to battle preconceptions, she teamed with producer Mitchell Froom for 1992’s “99.9F”, the sound of which instigated descriptions such as “industrial folk” and “techno folk.” Certified gold, “99.9F” won a New York Music Award as Best Rock Album.
Vega was also the first of an elite group of women, joined recently by Billie Eilish, to land three consecutive singles in Billboard’s Alternative Top 10, beginning with “Book of Dreams,” followed by her featured spot on DNA’s “Tom’s Diner” and concluding with her own “Blood Makes Noise.”
In 1996, Vega returned with the similarly audacious “Nine Objects Of Desire”, also produced by Froom, who by then was her husband (they split in 1998 after three years – she has been married to lawyer Paul Mills since 2006).
Over the years, she has been heard on soundtracks including “Pretty In Pink” (“Left Of Center” with Joe Jackson) and contributed to such diverse projects as the Disney compilation “Stay Awake”, the Grateful Dead tribute “Deadicated” and the Leonard Cohen tribute “Tower Of Song”.
In 1999, “The Passionate Eye: The Collected Writings Of Suzanne Vega”, a volume of poems, lyrics, essays and journalistic pieces, was published by Spike/Avon Books. In 2001, she returned to her acoustic roots for her first new album in five years, the critically lauded “Songs In Red And Gray”.
In 2007, Vega released the Grammy award-winning “Beauty & Crime” on Blue Note Records, a deeply personal reflection of her native New York City in the wake of the loss of her brother Tim Vega and the tragedy of 9/11.
Suzanne Vega’s Track Record:
1. First song you heard as a child?
First song I remember: She Loves You by The Beatles.
2. First single you owned?
Never bought singles.
3. First LP/album you owned?
Abbey Road – The Beatles.
4. First CD you owned?
Solitude Standing by, well, me!
5. Last music you bought and in what format (CD/vinyl/digital download)?
Do people buy music anymore? Maybe Malibu by Anderson.Paak (digital download).
6. Which album would be on your wish list as a birthday or Christmas gift?
Beck’s newest called Hyperspace, but then again, I could just download it!
7. Favourite ever album?
Too many to list them all but: Leonard Cohen’s first album; Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan; So by Peter Gabriel; Mercury by American Music Club and Modern Guilt by Beck.
8. Best record ever made (can be single/album/EP)?
Sgt.. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Beatles.
9. Guilty secret in your music collection?
Candy Shop by 50 Cent.
10. What does music mean to you and how does it make you feel?
It is a connection to my body and out of my body. It moves me to both tears and ecstasy.
11. Which one song or album is a guaranteed mood booster?
Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder.
12. Which song or album would be the soundtrack to a film about your life?
Is This It by The Strokes.
13. Favourite driving track – or music to exercise-to?
To exercise to: This Year’s Model (Album) by Elvis Costello and his song Pump It Up.
14. Best song or album for a romantic moment?
I Want You by Marvin Gaye. Also: I Want You by Bob Dylan.
15. Which song was played for the “First Dance” at your wedding (if married) or which song would you choose if you did get married?
My daughter played a classical piece on the piano in a minor key for our little wedding; however ‘Our Song’ between my husband and me was always Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody.
16. Your choice of song to sing at karaoke?
I don’t sing karaoke, but for sheer lung power it’s fun to sing Beyond Belief by Elvis Costello.
17. Which song takes you back to your childhood – and to which specific memory?
The Girl From Ipanema. Thinking, ‘I want to sing just like that lady on the radio’, (Astrud Gilberto). I was probably four or five-years-old.
18. All-time favourite band?
The Attractions – Awesome band.
19. All-time favourite singer?
At the moment, Elvis Costello. He has power and range; he can sing intimately and seductively and then raise the roof off the house. Second is his wife Diana Krall for her gorgeous phrasing.
20. Which song would you like played at your funeral – and why?
When I Die by Laura Nyro. Always loved this cheerful, brave song about living free and exiting this world with a kind of joy. A fiery song, full of fight.