May 25, 1987 12:00 PM

Suzanne Vega

Vega, 25, started critics’ tongues wagging in 1985 with her first album, a curious mixture ranging from pseudo-rap (Cracking) to wounded love songs (Marlene on the Wall). Her elegantly crafted, alarmingly accessible second album may cause Vega’s loyal following to squirm in their faded Levis a bit at having to share her with the population at large. The New York City native can sound like a dyed-in-macramé folksinger one second, shift gears and sound a lot like the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs. Then there’s Luka, a track that has a distinctly Southern California rock feel. Producers Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo have given Vega enough room to profit from the pop grooves on the album without weakening her strength as a folkie. Gypsy, for instance, is a gorgeous, bouncy tune that is probably the most traditional folk song on the album, offering Vega the chance to keep bearing the torch for such grand dames as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. (Vega has been compared with Mitchell, but in fairness to Joni, the younger woman comes up short in vocal range.) Vega’s lyrics create stark vignettes about urban life, and the imagery is quite visceral: “If you were to kill me now right here/ I would still look you in the eye/ And I would burn myself into your memory as long as you were still alive.” Her backup band is solid, with guitarist Marc Shulman and bassist Michael Visceglia (once a member of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground) especially noteworthy. They help support the impression that Vega seems to be searching for new musical ground. Folk purists, however reluctant they may be to share her with the population at large, should come along for the journey. (A&M)

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