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Pop Music Review

Poetic Suzanne Vega Trusts the Words

October 06, 2001|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than a bloodied participant breathlessly confessing her own battlefield experiences, Suzanne Vega resembles a first-class TV news anchor reporting incisively on what goes on in the world around her.

Although her first album in five years, the just-released "Songs in Red and Gray" marks a significant shift in her field of vision--from a window on the world outside to a mirror--she's still not coming out from behind her anchor desk to tell us what she's discovered.

Vega, 42 and a single mom after her divorce from producer Mitchell Froom, placed half a dozen songs from "Red and Gray" at the heart of her 90-minute show Thursday at UCLA's Royce Hall.

Other singers might turn her poetically constructed tales into more deeply felt musical experiences at any given moment. Vega, with her no-frills, even-keeled delivery, trusts in the power of words.

She often punctuates her ruminations with punchy phrases that cut to the chase. Words may be free, but to Vega clearly they aren't cheap.

In the new "I'll Never Be Your Maggie May," she says she'd rather walk away with dignity from a bad relationship than become the abandoned victim. Toward the end, she sang "And so a woman leaves a man/And so a world turns on its end" and without a shred of vocal grandstanding, she captured the full effect of lives turned inside out.

Marshall Crenshaw opened with a solo acoustic set, and even without the delightful arrangements that often made his studio recordings nuggets of pure-pop perfection, his songs still burst with songwriting craftsmanship and more hooks than Madonna's closet.

*

Suzanne Vega and Marshall Crenshaw play Sunday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. 5 p.m. $35 to $45. (800) 300-4345.

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