Suzanne Vega has evolved from wistful contemporary folksinger into fringe-folk experimentalist over the course of her nearly 20-year career. The melancholy melodiousness and lyrical magnitude of her eponymous debut in 1985 was followed by more of the same on Solitude Standing in 1987. The big difference, on the latter, was the presence of the enormously popular "Luka," the potent child-abuse anthem that vaulted Vega into the pop spotlight. Although Days of Open Hand was a worthy follow-up in 1990, it yielded no hits and was unfairly dismissed as a relative failure.
Vega's next big success came not from her follow-up album, but from Solitude Standing once again. D.N.A., a pair of British DJs, appropriated Solitude's "Tom's Diner" and backed it with some slinky beats, turning it into one of 1990's biggest club hits. Vega incorporated some of the ambient trip-hop beat concepts of D.N.A. into her own work on 1992's 99.9F, an album whose critical success did not translate into commercial acceptance. By this time, Vega and husband Mitchell Froom had started a family, and Vega was more concerned with child-rearing than recording. This resulted in a four-year gap before her fifth album, the jazzy and well-received Nine Objects of Desire. In the tumultuous five years since, Vega's marriage to Froom dissolved. That major life event defines the central theme of her new album, the mournfully brilliant Songs in Red and Gray. Stripping away the electronic gadgetry and stylistic affectations of her later albums without losing their rhythmic texture, Vega has returned to the original sonic and emotional core of her music while still remembering the journey that began from that humble start.