Suzanne Vega celebrates the remarkable life of another distinguished writer, Carson McCullers, with the release of the new studio album inspired by the novelist entitled Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers. The songs, which she co-wrote with longtime friend and theatrical collaborator Duncan Sheik, richly capture the essence of McCuller's insightful words and forward-thinking philosophies on gender and love. "I feel that McCullers' ideas and thoughts are very modern," Vega says, "and she incarnates them in a way that other authors don't. She tried to live them and paid a price for it."
In songs like "New York Is My Destination," "We of Me" and "Lover, Beloved," you can hear the signature cool detachment of Vega's singing and revel in the characteristically incisive observation of her lyrics, many of which deftly draw on McCullers' own writing. But the songs' elastic melody lines, loping rhythms, idiosyncratic instrumentation (including clarinet, harmonium, banjo, ukulele, trombone and accordion), and surprising arrangements (by guitarist extraordinaire Gerry Leonard, who also produced the album) are like nothing we've heard from Vega before.
Overall, Lover, Beloved finds a sound that exists outside of time. It's traditional enough to suit the iconic quality of its subject; clever enough to capture her originality and daring; and contemporary enough to help establish McCullers as an avatar for this century as well as the preceding one. Most of the instrumentation is acoustic, but, in particular, Leonard's evocative, atmospheric electric guitar playing lifts the music into another, more imaginative realm. That McCullers herself was an accomplished, classically trained pianist – and that the lyricism of her writing reflects that innate musicality – only further enhances the shivery dynamic between words and music on the album.