John J Presley
Festival Antigel / Geneva
Name of the newest Album:
Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles
Album appearance date:
Festival Antigel - Temple de Chêne-Bougerie/Genève:
Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles
Suzanne Vega is coming out with her eighth album, her first studio recording of new material in seven years. Called Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, it will be released on her own label, Amanuensis Productions, in February 2014.
These are 10 new songs each telling a story that has to do with the material world and the world of the spirit and how they intersect.
The range of the record goes from Dylan/Stones inspired guitar-driven songs, to cinematic atmospheric soundscapes along the lines of, say, Radiohead. It also has classic folk elements.
One song (“Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain”) samples hip-hop artist 50 Cent’s radio hit “Candy Shop”. This is Suzanne’s first sampling effort – although her song Tom’s Diner has been interpolated countless times in the hip-hop community, she has not until now ever sampled anyone else.
Produced by Gerry Leonard, who has been David Bowie’s musical director for more than a decade, it features long time favorites bass player Mike Visceglia and drummer Doug Yowell. However, joining Suzanne for the first time is an illustrious group of musicians:
Gail Ann Dorsey and Zachary Alford (both from David Bowie) on bass and drums respectively play on a few tracks. This was also a happy reunion of sorts as Suzanne and Zachary attended the same elementary school back in the 70’s in New York City and knew each other then.
Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel) joins in on “I Never Wear White” and “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain” playing bass, along with Jay Bellerose who has become producer T-Bone Burnett’s main go-to drummer.
Larry Campbell, who is Bob Dylan’s main acoustic wizard, plays banjo, mandolin, and cimbal throughout the album. Sterling Campbell (David Bowie, B52s) plays drums on “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain” and “Laying on of Hands”.
Alison Balsom is the virtuoso principal trumpet for the London Chamber Orchestra and is featured on “Road Beyond This One (Horizon) for Vaclav Havel”.
The strings were recorded in the Czech Republic with the Smikov Chamber Orchestra. Finishing off with background vocals is Catherine Russell known for her work with David Bowie and Paul Simon, among others.
Tracking for the album took place mostly at the Clubhouse Studios in Rhinebeck, although recording also took place in Chicago, London, Prague, LA and New York City. Everything else was recorded at Kyserike Station, an old train station in upstate New York. Mixed by Kevin Killen (Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush).
How the Album Was Made
I had kernels of songs recorded mostly on my iPhone –recordings with melodies, lyrics, notes and pieces of ideas. Gerry Leonard and I began getting together once a week in my manager’s office in New York City to tease out and solidify these ideas. We did this for about a year.
We then tried the songs out on the road, adjusting the songs every night depending on how they felt live. Every night Gerry and I made changes to lyrics, melodies, keys, tempos and arrangements. I Never Wear White has proven itself to be a crowd favorite night after night whether we are playing in Arkansas or Tokyo.
The main way we recorded this album was all of us in a room playing together whenever possible. This way of playing informs the main sound of the album, which is warm and organic. Then Gerry would take the recordings home and overdub his parts that hadn’t been already recorded in the demo process.
I am happy with the way the album came out and I feel that my vocals and lyrics are clearly heard, which is often an issue for me. Gerry and I met on the Songs In Red And Grey project in 2000 and have worked together on and off since then.
Note on the Songs
Crack in the Wall: A parable about how wanting too much materially leads to loss. But can be redeemed!
Fool’s Complaint: The Fool who is free from possessions complains about the Queen of Pentacles who can be nurturing, but also greedy.
I Never Wear White: It’s true. Here are some reasons why. Maybe you feel the same. I don’t mind if you wear it.
Portrait of the Knight of Wands: Trying to figure out a friend’s terrible mood. Normally the Knight of Wands is a fiery and optimistic character so this really was a bad day for him.
Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain: Good advice! Or is it? A few tales that illustrate both sides.
Jacob and the Angel: A retelling of the story from the Bible.
Silver Bridge: A true story of the death of someone dear and how it seemed I saw where he had passed over.
Song of the Stoic: If “Luka” grew to be a man who worked say, as a roadie, this could be his story.
Laying on of Hands: A wry look at the times we live in. I think of The Hugging Saint and the police activity from the Occupy Wall Street movement when I think of this title.
There Is A Road (Horizon) for Vaclav Havel: The first verse is my own point of view. I have always been moved by the life of Vaclav Havel and the second verse encapsulates his life to the best of my ability.
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