Suzanne Vega‘s new album An Evening Of New York Songs And Stories, released 35 years after her debut, speaks of pre-covid times, when audiences could gather at a small venue to enjoy an intimate musical performance from a celebrated artist. Songs would be played on instruments, live before eyes and ears, and perhaps be introduced by their creator. Nobody would be socially distanced or masked. It would be a moment.
The album, recorded live at Café Carlyle in New York City, documents such a moment, replete with between-songs chat, while serving as a timely reminder of the New York songwriter’s considerable back catalogue of work. Original tracks such as NY Is My Destination, Tom’s Diner and Luka nestle alongside the NYC-centric material of others, not least her friend the late Lou Reed‘s Walk On The Wild Side. And it’s no coincidence that an album dedicated to songs of New York is released on 11 September.
Here, to mark the album’s release, Vega she mines her music memory for the albums that have influenced her most for her This Music Made Me…
Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto
I have a clear strong memory of hearing The Girl From Ipanema on the radio and thinking, “I wish I could sing like this lady”.
The voice belonged to Astrud Gilberto, who sings in a clear sweet unaffected way with no vibrato.
I think she has influenced my vocal style more than anyone.
The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour
A beloved album of my childhood.
I loved the concept, the art work, the booklet with the album and of course the music. Some harmonic changes still dance through my mind – the little turnaround in Your Mother Should Know, for example.
A fun romp and part of my musical development.
Simon and Garfunkel – Sounds Of Silence
Again, I heard I Am A Rock on the radio and I stopped to listen to the lyrics.
“This is how I feel,” I thought.
I have always loved Paul Simon’s writing, melodies and orchestrations.
Laura Nyro – Eli and the 13th Confession
I was obsessed with her and with this album.
I really found myself there in her interior landscape of New York City, boys, and the mythic struggle between good and evil. Her lyrics are wildly idiosyncratic and poetic.
It gave me confidence to think I could do the same one day.
Folk Song and Minstrelsy – Folkways
A multi-volume set of albums I picked up cheap at a thrift shop sale.
I taught myself many songs off this album on the guitar. It was just my speed. Many of the songs were three chords. I loved Cisco Houston and taught myself Hard Travelin’, dreaming of the days when I would be on tour.
I also sang some of the other funny songs on my babysitting jobs, like The Unfortunate Man.
Judy Collins – In My Life
How I loved this album! Every song was a doorway into another world.
I finally heard the song Suzanne which so many people had told me about, and I thought it was mysterious; it forced me to find its author who we will discuss next, along with Dress Rehearsal Rag. Liverpool Lullaby influenced the first song I ever wrote called Brother Mine; I loved its realism.
I discovered Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today which I covered years later in drama class. A real treasure.
Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Leonard Cohen
His first album.
Once I discovered Suzanne on Judy Collins’ album I was emboldened to buy the original.
I fell in love with the entire album from beginning to end; with his dark intimate voice, the plucking lyricism of the nylon string guitar, the women singing in the background, and his themes of sex, power and politics.
Lou Reed – Berlin
What impressed me about this album was the fact that Lou Reed who was a real rock star, played acoustic guitar all the way through it.
This was a concept album about a couple and their drug use and abuse. I liked it that he wrote from a female perspective, and he did it well. (Caroline Says; Part 2).
This album was one of the inspirations behind Luka, my song about child abuse.
Pete Townsend – Empty Glass
Again I was impressed by the use of acoustic guitar on this album by a bona fide rocker.
At the time I was working on songs for my first album and his style of strumming can be heard on Some Journey though most people think it’s Pinball Wizard I am stealing from.
Bob Dylan – Greatest Hits
An album I have returned to again and again.
I love his albums individually, but this collection is what I heard first as a child, and I couldn’t get enough of the lyrics which covered everything from politics, to love, to a mind expanding vision of the world, sometimes all in the same song.
And an honorary mention…
Philip Glass – Mishima
I was obsessed with this album while working on Solitude Standing.
The emotional intensity on this album is almost unbearable, and I was so impressed with the use of electric guitar and modern instrumentation.
It’s part of my musical DNA.
Suzanne Vega’s album An Evening Of New York Songs And Stories is out on 11 September 2020 through Cooking Vinyl. Tour dates and further information can be found here.