In the symbology of color, red is passion, anger, love and lust. And gray? Gray is the hue of ennui, depression, tears and cemetery statuary. Metaphorical charcoal and crimson, scarlet and dove tumble one over the other in variegated currents of melancholy and intensity in this new effort from Suzanne Vega, her first in five years. Vega had branched out in recent years, parlaying her pop-folk into increasingly over-produced albums before taking a break after 1996's Nine Objects of Desire to raise her child. Fans wondered if she'd merely faded out, but from the first hushed strains of the first track "Penitent," it's clear Vega is back. Recently divorced from her former producer and husband Mitchell Froom, the breakup not only provides much of the album's material but also returns Vega to the uncluttered acoustic arrangements and vocal intimacy of her earlier (and arguably best) albums Solitude Standing and Suzanne Vega.
Under the restrained hand of new producer Rupert Hine, these are, for the most part, songs of dissolution and dissection. Returning to the scene of the crime in "Song in Red and Gray," "Soap and Water" and "Widow's Walk," Vega has seldom sounded more beguiling. That is not to say the album doesn't have its share of lighter, more buoyant tracks. "(I'll Never Be Your) Maggie May" is a melodic retort to Rod Stewart's 1971 hit, while "Last Year's Troubles" is lilting and bouncy. And fans of her chanting style of intonation will no doubt relish "If I Were a Weapon." Overall, a must-have disc for old-school Vega fans.