From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Vienna Teng “Inland Territory” (Zoe/Rounder Records)
Vienna Teng adds adventurous eclecticism and bold textures to her lovely melodies, angelic voice and literate lyrics on her fourth album, “Inland Territory.”
The singer/songwriter/pianist opens with a mellow piano ballad, but the crackling of a vinyl album and backup vocals from choral singers give “The Last Snowfall” fitting atmospherics.
The San Francisco-born musician shifts abruptly into a moody alt-pop with the second track, the cautionary “White Light,” and returns to that style with the rhythmic political statement “Radio.”
In between, the Taiwanese-American Teng taps Depression-era jazz on “In Another Life,” then ventures into bluesy folk on the uptempo “Grandmother Song,” which gathers familiar lines of familial advice, both supportive and disparaging.
She lets her skillful fingers play the starring role on the power pop piano ballad “Augustine” and the playful ditty “Stray Italian Greyhound,” about finding love when you’ve “just stopped believing in happy endings.”
Among the 12 strong tracks, “Antebellum” stands out from the rest, with layered pianos, strings and marching drums building up insightful lyrics comparing a failed love affair with a war. Teng’s clear vocals ring clearly on the ballad, with collaborator Alex Wong, who co-produced the album with her, softly chiming in at the climax to turn it into a ballad.
With its daring diversity, “Inland Territory” is one of my favorite albums so far this year.