Even aside from the conspicuous absence in the production credits for Songs In Red And Gray, it's not hard to figure out that Suzanne Vega's new album deals with her recent divorce. "Consider me a widow, boys, and I will tell you why / It's not the man but it's the marriage that was drowned," Vega sings in the opening moments of "Widow's Walk." That's neither the last nor the most explicit reference to romantic dissolution on Songs, Vega's first record in five years and, significantly, her first since parting ways with producer and husband Mitchell Froom. On two albums, 1993's 99.9°F and 1996's Nine Objects Of Desire, Froom helped Vega rethink her music, creating an atmosphere of aggressive programmed beats and carefully orchestrated discordance. Here, she employs the production skills of Rupert Hine, best known for his '80s work with acts like Howard Jones and The Thompson Twins. Songs bears traces of that background, but the most immediate reminder of the past comes from the disc's similarity to Vega's own '80s albums, efforts in which she found a common space between pop ambition and her folk background. Programmed beats set the rhythm on Songs, but Vega's voice and guitar drive the album along. There's a long tradition of notable divorce records, traceable back beyond Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks and Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear. Vega's contribution doesn't quite measure up to those lofty precursors, but she does come especially equipped to deal with the topic; her hushed voice and careful delivery have always been capable of smuggling sad, sharp sentiments. A loose reply to the Rod Stewart classic, mandolin and all, "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May" perfectly encapsulates the album's mood of heartbroken defiance. The concept may make it sound lighthearted, but the song doesn't bear out that impression. In fact, Songs finds little room for lightheartedness, its lyrics revealing more coolheaded disappointment with each listen, like an impossible argument replayed again and again. After such a long absence, it would almost be enough to hear Vega simply making music once more. Revealing a songwriter unwilling to compromise even when it hurts, Songs makes her return all the more welcome.