CD Review of Inland Territory by Vienna Teng
Vienna Teng: Inland Territory
Recommended if you like
Joni Mitchell, Loreena McKennitt, Duncan Sheik
Label
Rounder/Zoe
Vienna Teng:
Inland Territory

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

F
iercely independent, talented and resourceful, Vienna Teng is an example of an artist who refuses to compromise when it comes to expressing herself. Although she can be loosely labeled a singer/songwriter, Teng’s artistic vision encompasses such a wide pastiche, the term simply doesn’t do her justice. Indeed, her musical path reflects some grand ambitions, and clearly she possesses the talent to do them justice. Having first learned to play piano at age five, she went on to attend Stanford University and released her first recording while still tending to her studies. She released a further two albums on her own before inking a major label deal with Zoe/Rounder, which helped her ascend further into the national spotlight and has now seemingly brought her to the cusp of popular recognition.

Happily, her new album doesn’t disappoint, suggesting she’s that much closer to those wider accolades she so clearly deserves. Although every bit as elegant, elegiac, savvy and sophisticated as her label debut, the glorious Dreaming Through the Noise, Inland Territory finds her embracing a more accessible sound, one that provides a series of soaring crescendos and the occasional passage that allows a hint of a more sprightly pace. As always, Teng shows she’s well adept at crafting songs that have the tendency to both mesmerize and mystify, courtesy of melodies and arrangements that reflect a stunning array of moods and emotions. And indeed, while the new record continues to show her penchant for hushed reflection and introspective musings, Teng’s determination to expand her palette leads to some remarkably intriguing encounters. Examples are everywhere, from the percolating pulse of "White Light" and the measured contemplation of "Kansas" to the shimmering, low-watt essence that marks such songs as "Antebellum," Watershed" and the gorgeous coda, "St. Stephen’s Cross."

Still, part of the beauty of Inland Territory lies in the new territory Teng invites her listeners to explore. Consequently, the most dazzling designs are found in those songs where percussion plays a primary role, specifically the surprisingly slapdash whoop, holler and handclaps of "Grandmother Song," the twitchy refrains of "Radio," or the breathless crescendo that sends "Augustine" spiraling ever higher. Forget the fact that Teng’s keyboard-based passages often show a tendency to indulge in weary circumspect; there’s no denying the sheer effervescent beauty she’s capable of welding so flawlessly. Hers is a journey of ongoing discovery, one worthy of an artist whose unique and specific talents make Inland Territory a genuinely magical realm.

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