Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation,
Vega emerged as a leading figure of the folk- music revival of the early 1980s
when, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she sang what have been labeled
contemporary folk or neo-folk songs of her own creation in Greenwich Village
clubs. Since the release of her self-titled, critically acclaimed 1985 debut
album, she has given sold-out concerts in many of the world's best-known halls.
In performances devoid of outward drama that nevertheless convey deep emotion.
Vega sings in a distinctive, clear vibratoless voice that has been described
as "a cool, dry sandpaper- brushed near-whisper" and as "plaintive
but disarmingly powerful." Bearing the stamp of a masterful storyteller
who "observed the world with a clinically poetic eye." In the words
of Stephen Holden of the New York Times [April 29, 1987], her songs focus on
city life and ordinary people and on such subjects as childhood trauma, child
abuse, spiritual or physical illnesses, loneliness and love. Notably succinct
and understated, often cerebral but also streetwise, her lyrics invite multiple
With the release in 1987 of Solitude Standing, her second album, and in particular,
its hit single "Luka", Vega vaulted to a position of prominence in
the world of pop music. Inspired in part by the British group DNA's highly successful
1991 remix of "Tom's Diner," another cut from Solitude Standing, Vega
ventured into musical territory she had never before explored to create 99.9
F. Without turning her back on her roots in folk music, with 99.9 F, she stretched
the boundaries of that genre still further to encompass what has been variously
dubbed industrial folk, technofolk, and technofolk rock. Vega is said to have
paved the way for such singers as Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Edie Brickell,
Melissa Etheridge, and Shawn Colvin.
Vega collaborated with Anton Sanko to produce her third album, Days of Open
Hand (1990). During its production she tried to learn more about "the way
songs work." she revealed to Wayne Robins in New York Newsday [April 17,
1990]. "And I found my voice would go as far as I could push it. I found
all new ranges, low parts, and high parts, I even sang with some vibrato. It's
a strange thing to feel the music in my body as opposed to just in my mind.
She has also been quoted as saying that she intended the songs on the album
to "give a sense of resolving the past and looking to the future."
While critical reaction to Days of Open Hand ranged from glowing to dismissive,
the reception accorded 99.9 F (1992) was overwhelmingly favorable. Working for
the first time with Mitchell Froom, who produced 99.9 F, Vega entered a new
musical domain, "hopscotch[ing] from industrial rock to girl-group pop
to dreamy psychedelia," as Stephanie Zacharek reported in the Boston Phoenix
[September 11, 1992]. In a conversation with Laura Lee Davies for the British
magazine Time Out [August 12-19, 1992], Vega explained her willingness to try
what she termed "jumping off musical cliffs". "I guess a lot
of things in my life had changed", she said. "Some long-term relationships
had broken up in the last year, and I was working without my usual band. That
added to the feeling of recklessness". She has also attributed her openness
to musical experimentation in "relax[ing] ... and allow[ing] more of [her]
personality to come out."
"I'm reserved," Suzanne Vega once said. "But I'm not timid."
"Her wispy visage and lean graceful frame often leave the impression of
a fragile being," Marcia B. Merson wrote in BSide [April/May 1993]. "Yet,
Suzanne is nothing near fragile in body, mind or spirit." Gary Graff of
the New York Daily News [July 19, 1987] described Vega as "tough-minded,
outspoken, humorous, and direct." "She is surprisingly articulate."
according to Anthony Scaduto. "Interviewing many pop music personalities
is like driving through fog, but Vega is direct, unambiguous, candid."