In musical terms, it is less significant that Mitchell Froom is no longer Suzanne Vega's husband than it is that he is no longer her producer. Although Froom's experimental style helped the singer/songwriter fulfill her desire to expand beyond her folk-pop roots on her fourth and fifth albums, 99 F° and Nine Objects of Desire, his approach actually worked against the material, cluttering her intimate, direct songs with inappropriate percussion tracks and various kinds of sound processing. So, listeners who responded strongly to her first three albums but found the Froom discs off-putting (and there were plenty of them) should be alerted that, sonically, Songs in Red and Gray
is ready to welcome back old fans. Produced by Rupert Hine, it has the kind of carefully played acoustic guitar work and close-up vocal miking that characterized Suzanne Vega
and Solitude Standing
. That makes it easier to appreciate Froom's departure from Vega
's personal life as well as her professional one, however. This is very much a divorce album, its songs frequently touching on romantic discord and the resulting fall-out. Vega
is both precise and artful in describing the situation. She writes by metaphor, unafraid, on "Machine Ballerina," for example, to mix those metaphors and pile them up. That allows her some emotional distance, but never at the expense of meaning. Her concern with the dissolution of her marriage and its impact on her child is apparent in "Soap and Water" when she sings, "Daddy's a dark riddle/Mama's a headful of bees/you are my little kite /carried away in the wayward breeze," even though the lines make up a succession of metaphors. Her calm, hushed, clear singing only emphasizes the emotional torment the songs trace. The result is an album on a par with her best work.