|1. Feather Moon|
|3. Hope on Fire|
|5. Mission Street|
|6. My Medea|
|7. Shasta (Carrie's Song)|
|8. Homecoming (Walter's Song)|
|9. Anna Rose|
|11. The Atheist Christmas Carol|
|12. [Untitled Hidden Track]|
By the time San Francisco-based singer/songwriter/pianist Vienna Teng, 26, quit her full-time software engineering job at Cisco Systems in 2002, she had signed with independent label Virt Records and was preparing for her full-length CD release, "Waking Hour." She was soon opening for such artists as Shawn Colvin and Joan Osborne. With her graceful melodies and evocative lyrics, Vienna has garnered critical acclaim and a rapidly growing legion of fans throughout the world. Her days are now filled with interviews and sold-out performances. Needless to say, it has been an abrupt shift from her cubicle days.
Vienna began taking piano lessons at age 5, studying classical composers like Bach and Chopin. Far from being pressured into studying music, however, Vienna asked for piano lessons on her own. While she delved fully into classical works, leading her to even take on the name of Vienna after the Austrian city of composers, she was drawn more to the act of improvisation, and in expressing the ideas that were emerging in her own imagination. She wrote her first song at age 6, and had an albums worth of instrumentals composed by age 16.
Vienna has returned with her sophomore release, "Warm Strangers," a diverse collection of lush, melodic songs, incorporating Vienna's classical background and folk sensibilities within a contemporary pop framework. Whereas "Waking Hour," written during the high school and college years, was mostly autobiographical, "Warm Strangers" marks Vienna's bold leap into fiction. Orchestral and acoustic landscapes, using everything from string quartets to slide guitars, provide an inviting sonic backdrop for her short stories of love, death, struggle and hope. In describing "Warm Strangers," Vienna notes, "We pass through each other's lives so briefly that it's easy to think of the people around us as mere objects, cold and removed. Writing songs is my way of breathing warmth into them. Attempting to tell their stories, however fictitious the results, reminds me of our common humanity."
I recall objecting to some of the percussion, notably on
"Harbor". That was probably at least a little unfair, comparing a solo
piano performance on NPR to an album version...you know how people
are, when things are different from what they expect, they don't like
it at first. I'm here to tell you, I take it back! This album (and
"Waking Hour") are fantastic from start to finish. Sometimes it takes
a bit for thing to penetrate my skull. I loved them both right off,
but now...I can't say enough about these CD's, or about
Vienna. Beautiful. Compelling. Fantastic!
Standout tracks are hard to pin down, because they all really have
something unique to offer. However, I really think "Homecoming" is my
favorite--if I had to pick. Something about how she gets into the main
character's head on that one, a lot of things. "Passage" will probably
haunt you for a while, as it should--I really think she hit what she
was going for on that one.
Anyway, everything wonderful I've said about this CD (and everyone
else, too) I stand behind completely. Run, don't walk, and get
it. Something else you should know; when I first get a CD, I obsess
over it. I play it daily, constantly, learn it forwards and backwrds,
whatever. For weeks. Until everyone at my house (that's my wife, the
cats, and the dogs) is probably thoroughly sick of my obsession! Well,
I'm here to tell you. I'm still obsessing over these two, four months
later. Fortunately, everyone else in the house seems to like them,
"Warm Strangers" is a decent follow-up to her debut, but it doesn't have the same range of intensity she show-cased in her first album. In many ways "Warm Strangers" sounds more like a solo attempt, with most of the focus on Vienna's piano and singing. Perhaps this is due to the subtle changes in the band line-up (the electric guitarist and percussionist from the 1st album are absent) or maybe it's the change in mixing & production personnel. Whatever the reason, I find "Warm Strangers" a good album, but it pales in comparison to "Waking Hour".
AIM - idioteque182
There is an emotional intensity here that I find extraordinarily appealing. I heard it said that while we'll always remember those we laugh with; we can never forget those we have cried with. I have shed some warm, enriching and human tears with Vienna's music as those strangers have become warm friends.
From my perspective, there are five standout tracks on the CD:
Mission Street, Passage, and The Atheist's Christmas Carol for their lyrics
Harbor and Hope on Fire for their musical accessibility.
Since I live in the Bay Area of California, Mission Street is my sentimental favorite. I can almost hear the Hispanic street sounds that Teng alludes to, and the introspective musing sounds right in line with the drift of thought you might indulge in while cradling a warm cup of tea or coffee in your hands, looking out the window of a restaurant or coffee shop. And as another reviewer noted, the spare use of a muted trumpet at just the right times is a thing of beauty.
The Atheist's Christmas Carol's sentiments are spiritual without being religious, focusing on the healing that we can all give to each other at an otherwise bleak time of year. On the second listen, I felt tears well up.
Passage, an a cappella reflection of the lives of those most dear to you after death, both soon and a long time after, is a fresh and daring approach to a topic many consider in their bleak moments. What sat me back in my chair was the look four years and decades after a death. Most of the people I know who've thought about what would happen to loved ones after they die consider only the near-term impact. The vision of people incompletely patching up their lives rocked me.Read more ›