And to celebrate, here is the folky singer-songwriter in totally new guise: Suzanne Vega, Rock Chick. Well, not quite, but in a career more noted for hushed moments it’s still a surprise to hear electric guitars played in anger. And it’s a good look. Vega dips into the Tarot for songs about spiritual growth, death, the afterlife and Vaclav Havel, while an array of session superheroes – among them Larry Campbell and Gail Ann Dorsey – fill the album with crackling electricity that even gets a little menacing on live showstopper I Never Wear White. It’s hardly Dylan goes electric, but the intent is much the same.
Track eight of her first album since 2007’s sly and graceful Beauty and Crime is in the same vein as Luka. Song of the Stoic tells of a man who faced up to his father in the hallway then knuckled down to a life of back-knotting toil. It’s a beautifully weary yearning for release.
There’s a clatter of industrial percussion, a skipping banjo and a strange, soaring chorus of choir-backed “Oooo”s in Vega’s breathy alto, which still has the casual cool of a New York hipster exhaling just enough to part her own fringe. Elsewhere there’s a jagged guitar riff on I Never Wear White and a supple sample from 50 Cent’s Candy Shop on the upbeat Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain.
Vega’s enduringly classy knack for quirky rhythm, sleek ideas and direct-but-detached delivery shines through much of this album, though it does suffer at times from the leaden, ye olde phrasing hinted at in the title.