Musical Matters: Susanne Vega’s Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles


“Luka”, “Tom’s Diner”, “99.9F°”…. Suzanne Vega was one of my big music loves from the late 80s/early 90s. She’s been making beautiful music since then, though this is her first album in seven years. And Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles is a corker. There’s lovely mysticism threaded through the album, from tarot to genies, angels and dream journeys, giving this acoustic folk a lighter, playful spin. It’s also an album — and yes, I still call ’em albums, from vinyl to internet streaming playlist — perfect for a day at the Faire, or hanging out with friends as you throw together your latest steampunk cosplay creation. Or as I’m doing right now, kicking back with a glass of wine on a cold and rainy Spring day. Queen of Pentacles is soothing and intriguing, a nice trick that. But Vega, who has always had a way with drawing listeners in to listen to her lyric poetry by constructing haunting melodies, walks the fine line between fantasy, folk, and prog rock here, delivering an album that’s a great listen from beginning to end.

Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles feels like the newer offerings from fellow elder statesmen Al Stewart and Yusuf Islam; beguiling lyrics with melodies in no need of reverb or other post-production tweaking. This is songwriting pure and simple, and that’s a very good thing. Personal favorites on this album? I’ve got a few:

* “Fools Complaint” — a light, bouncy melody combined with the tarot’s most often maligned card. “But what do I know?/My card’s the fool! The fool, the fool./That merry rootless man.” This is the song that digs it’s way into my head and takes up residence. It’s a welcome guest.
* “Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain” — is that a Macklemore shout-out? Indeed it is. It’s also a rolicking song, and one I’d love to hear her play live. And are those taiko drums in the background? Absolutely. And that’s not the only delight; there’s a sample of 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” threaded in. Yes, that’s right. And it works.
* “Horizon (There Is A Road)” — thoughtful and beautiful, this is my favorite song-poem from the album.

I thank Queen of Pentacles for re-introducing me to Vega’s work, something I lost touch with after her 1992 album 99.9F°. This new offering isn’t the electronica-infused rhythm of that album, then again there have been three others in between that album and this. And after all that time, Vega’s voice is just as beautiful and supple as it was back when I first heard her. What manner of magic is this? In the end, I don’t care; just give me more of it. Luckily, there’s a new DVD I’ll be getting my hands on momentarily.

(Amanuensis, 2014)


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