Close-Up, Vol. 3: States of Being

by: Suzanne Vega

The third in a series of thematic albums that find Suzanne Vega revisiting her songbook (and not incidentally creating new recordings of her older songs that she owns rather than some major label), Close-Up, Vol. 3: States of Being collects 14 tunes that focus on various forms of emotional turmoil, and encompass what she calls “the freakier side of my songwriting.” Just as she did on the first two Close-Up albums, Vega strips these songs down to their essence, and while her guitar isn’t the only instrument on these new versions, the arrangements are spare and intimate even when she introduces strings and a backing band to the proceedings, and her voice is front and center at all times, her performances carrying the weight of her elegant wordplay and carefully structured scenarios. Vega produced Close-Up, Vol. 3, and her choices are clever, summoning an impressive degree of atmosphere and color with relatively simple backing (and the distorted guitar and percussion on “Blood Makes Noise” do an impressive job of standing in for the busy electronic clatter of the original recording). Vega’s vocal performances here are strong and confident, often more so than they were on her early albums, and she’s lived with this material long enough to communicate the desires and anxieties of her characters like a gifted actress. And like the other volumes in this series, this features a new song, in this case “Instant of the Hour After,” a collaboration with Duncan Sheik from a theater piece drawn from the writings of Carson McCullers, and it’s certainly on a par with the other material cherry-picked from over 20 years of record-making. While fans will have to ask themselves how many of these songs they want to own again, the craft and imagination that has gone into Close-Up, Vol. 3: States of Being sets this apart from most albums in which artists re-record their songs for a new label, and the results confirm Suzanne Vega is still a powerful interpreter of her own material. ~ Mark Deming

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