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Vienna Teng


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Evocative/eclectic, piano-vocal alternative pop

Status:

Most recent release, Aims (2013)

See also:

Vienna Teng's site

Comparisons:

Sarah McLachlan, Sinead Lohan

Covers/own material:

All her songs are original—and how! (billonline@adlerbooks.com)

General comments:

Vienna Teng is a gifted artist who writes great songs. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

I'm deeply impressed! Ms. Teng's music is at once complex and accessible. These are songs that truly come from the heart and soul, a rare commodity in today's packaged music world. Thanks Vienna for sharing your talent with the world; may it appreciate you as it should. Lord knows there are some fine artists extant whose music has sadly been overlooked by the public. It would seem Vienna's music is reaching a lot of people, and I am cheered that music of this stratospheric quality is being so well appreciated! (rlovejoy@comcast.net)

Comments about live performance:

Yesterday afternoon my friend Jennifer and I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Vienna Teng perform a house concert.
     It was my first time seeing Vienna live, and I was really glad that the showcase for her new label gave her an excuse to make the trip out to the northeastern US. I had been wondering if I would ever get the chance to see her perform.
      She played two sets (with a short break between them), and managed to get through almost all of the songs on Waking Hour, plus a few new ones. It was great to hear all of the material I was familiar with, and the simple piano and voice arrangements made her skills as a musician and songwriter really shine. The stories she told about each song got me looking at some of them from a different viewpoint, which is always a cool thing. It was also wonderful to hear the newer songs, and I'm *really* looking forward to her next album of new material. (9/02)
     It was great!
     As we'd hoped, Vienna was on first, and her set was great. She didn't do any of the new songs that she'd performed during the house concert at Jeff's house last year, but it was still wonderful to hear some of our favorites from Waking Hour. If I had any complaint, it would be that the set was too short, but I think I'd probably still be saying that if she'd played for two hours. *wry smile*. (4/03, mcurry@io.com)

We got to see Vienna at The Living Room in NY on Friday evening. For a 7 pm show, it was surprisingly well attended, which was good to see. She was really, really good, and her piano playing just blew me away. One thing that really surprised me was her speaking voice: I was totally unprepared for such a rich, deep voice to come out of someone who sings as sweetly as she does! (9/02)
     We had a great weekend with Vienna. She performed two shows in our living room for a total of about 60 people, and both were stunningly wonderful. It was fun to just hang out with her, too— t's always fun to spend time with ectophiles, since there is no lack of stuff to talk about. :)
     Any and all who can go see her play simply cannot afford to miss her. She's the real deal, folks—we are lucky to have such a talent in our midst. (3/03)
     woj and I saw Vienna Teng open for Robyn Hitchcock last night at The Bottom Line. Both shows were pleasantly full (Robyn has lots of devoted fans, plus there was a good number of people there to see Vienna), and it was a great night. A cool way to spend Halloween in New York City. :)
     Vienna did two very fine sets, which varied only slightly between shows. She started both sets with "Gravity", "The Tower", and "Homecoming" and ended with "Unwritten Letter #1". The first set also contained "Momentum", "Enough To Go By" and "Lullabye For A Stormy Night", and the second set had "My Medea", "Eric's Song" and (this was a surprise) her a cappella song about dying in a car crash. That one was weird, because I had just had a flash of a memory of when she did that at our house in March, and someone in the audience was so upset by it that she had to leave the room. (I didn't know this person so I don't know for sure, but my guess was that she had lost someone in a car accident and the song hit just a wee bit close to home.)
     I know she made some new fans—she was signing a lot of CDs afterwards. (11/03)
     So last night woj and I ignored the spring snowstorm and hopped the train to NYC to see Vienna Teng at sold-out Joe's Pub. It was well worth the trip, even considering that we got there after the opener had started and ended up standing in back by the bar.
     In addition to cellist Marika Hughes and violinist Alan Lin, Vienna was accompanied by Shahzad Ismaily on drums. Also, on a couple songs Eric Cheng provided second cello. It was lovely.
     Vienna's voice has recovered nicely from last week's frog attack—there were only a couple very high notes on which she had a little trouble. She sounded great, and the sound mix was good, so she didn't get drowned out by the rest of the instrumentation.
     "Homecoming" was done with only Alan Lin accompanying, while "Mission Street", "Green Island Serenade" and "Eric's Song" were just Vienna solo on piano. "Hope On Fire" absolutely kicked with drums, and "Feather Moon" and "Harbor" were transcendent, particularly with two cellos going.
     She and the band were very well-received; there was a pretty thunderous ovation when the show was over. She was clearly having a great time. (3/04)
     Vienna and Alex each said that this was by far the best of the three Caffe Vivaldi benefits, so I guess we picked the right one to get to. :) There were no sound issues (though I would've boosted Vienna's vocals and brightened them up a wee bit), and everybody played great. She, Alex, and Ward Phillips (formerly of the band Jump Little Children) played Inland Territory in its entirety, in track order. Vienna alternated between her Nord keyboard and the cafe's gorgeous baby grand, Alex hit all sorts of things and looped some stuff and provided the occasional background vocal, and Ward played cello and electric guitar. Vienna told cute little stories about many of the songs and the recording process as she went along. All in all, it was pretty transcendent. (2/27/09, meth@smoe.org)

What gorgeous music that was, and so unexpected to end a holiday with the music I had begun it with on the plane, dazed and half asleep, listening to a mixture of the snorer next to me and Vienna's Waking Hour. Once home I downloaded all the new snippets off her website (!) since I had the lovely lullaby 'Anna Rose' in my head, and I remembered 'Shasta' as a song catchy enough that you want it to pause for you to breathe. A number of the non-Waking Hour songs (new songs? or just unrecorded?) are story ones, other people's stories I mean (truck driver, young pregnant woman..), not ones that can get confused with the singer's personal life, even though those too are often inventions. Vienna's voice seemed stronger, maybe more experienced to me, and still clear and pure and beautiful. She's so skilled with the piano.
     It's a pity Vienna can't record more new stuff immediately, but Waking Hour is an album that could really catch on with a label behind it, and endless variations of 'gravity' are fine with me, one for every planet. You're brave, Vienna, to quit your job, but I've no doubt it's the right decision. (7/02, k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Anyone who is on Vienna Teng's tour path ought to make sure they catch her. It was a fantastic concert! Her voice is wonderful, her piano playing is just gorgeous and she's a beautiful woman, inside and out. (5/03, vickie@enteract.com)

Vienna herself is just wonderful. Her low-pitched speaking voice and dry and often self-deprecating wit are a little reminiscent of Happy Rhodes, although her music is quite different. Much of her between-song banter was stories about how the songs themselves came about, or little anecdotes like how a friend forwarded her a review of Waking Hour from Sports Illustrated Online under the subject "BOOTY MUSIC!", where the reviewer recommended the album as a way for guys to fool their dates into thinking they were sensitive. She played a couple of songs from her upcoming second album, and coaxed the audience into an audience-participation version of "Soon Love Soon" which came off very well and seemed to please her immensely.
     She really does put on a good show, doesn't she? (9/03, stevev@hexadecimal.uoregon.edu)

The show tonight was, as expected, fantastic. Vienna is a great performer, and a great entertainer. She chatted with the audience and introduced pretty much every song with a story about its background. here were three unreleased songs, all of which were quite good. "The Boy at the Piano," particularly stood out for me. Very jazzy with cute lyrics. Reminded me of Jewel's "A Very Big Girl" in some ways. Lots of fun. Shasta" was an interesting song, surprisngly playful in its music, about a woman trying to decide if she should have an abortion. "Soon Love Soon" was something of a highlight, with Vienna coaxing the rather large crowd into singing the "soon love soon" and "and we will be as one god, and we will be as one people" parts while she sang the rest.
     I was particularly impressed with Vienna's piano playing. It was a lot of fun to watch her hands spidering across the keyboard.
     So I'll join in the chorus and tell people not to miss the chance to see her! Please, please go see Vienna someplace small before you end up seeing her in a huge room! (4/03)
     This was the fifth or 6th time I have seen Vienna, but it was probably the best. For one, the Barns provided a lovely Yamaha concert grand, so for the first time, we got to see Vienna play something other than the synth she lugs around with her. And she clearly appreciated the piano—she spoke about it a few times. She had Dinah and Marika with her, which was also a first for us...in the past, we've seen her with Alan Lin on violin and we've seen her with Marika Hughes on cello, but never at the same time.
     Vienna's patter is about the same as its always been—charming and funny, with an occasional vague insight into a song. The piano was titled toward the back of the stage so we didn't see much of Vienna during the show. In the introduction to "Passage" she apologized and explained that it was arranged for better communication with the strings, but then said she wanted to sing something where she could face the audience. I've never expected to hear that song live, and it was a bit weird without the atmospherics of the highway underpass, but she did a spectacular job, and it reminded me a bit of seeing Tori Amos perform "Me and a Gun."
     The new songs were great, and I'm really looking forward to the new album, whenever that might be.
     The crowd was quite and respectful. A lot of them were clearly hearing her live for the first time and were pretty much blown away—I kept hearing comments of "She's incredible!" and "That was amazing" from behind me.
     Really, it was a tremendous show.... (10/05, burka@jeffrey.net)

Her performance was really strong; the people sitting next to me said that the solo versions of the song were much more focused than the album. We had a good crowd. (2/03, jzitt@humansystems.com)

Vienna's Sunday show was well worth the 5-hour round trip it took to get there. I think one of things I liked most about the performance was Vienna's thoroughly detailed explanation of where most of the songs came from. Of course not every artist likes to do that, but Vienna is very forthcoming with her stories and I found them especially interesting. (3/03, carnivore@bigfoot.com)

I brought my parents and met Jeff Burka and his partner. Attendance at Iota was excellent! No Tori covers, but our notable encore was a traditional Taiwanese lullabye that she sang in something vaguely resembling Mandarin Chinese. It was beautiful, and a great way to end a show. That was my first Vienna live experience, and it was excellent. My parents were floored too. (7/03)
     Vienna had a violin player with her (Adam/Alan Lin?). It mostly gave a nice dimension to her sound, though sometimes the interplay got a bit muddy. I think that was how the show was mixed, as I thought her vocals weren't as distinct as the last time I saw her, and a bit harder to understand. It was a short set, but as usual, she told a lot of great stories as background to her songs and played a lot of thematically connected songs. My girlfriend was really impressed with the range and variety of her piano playing, which included a jazz-inflected number and a rumba. She gamely tried to set up the sing along for "Soon Love Soon", but in a large room with 30 people in it, it didn't totally work. A very fun evening, though. (5/04)
     Vienna just played here last week as a trio. I must have seen Vienna about 10 times in the last 12 years and this was her best show yet. It was so inventive and everyone was having such a good time. Really elaborate arrangements and everyone playing lots of instruments, electronics and odds and ends. (2013, neal)

Vienna Teng's show on Wednesday was good. I felt bad because the room was packed for the 10 PM performer, and then the room pretty much emptied out. But she did a solid job anyways. Man, what a voice. (5/03)
     Vienna did a magnificent show tonight at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. She is touring with a cellist (Marika Hughes) who also adds harmony vocals, and a violinist (Alan Lin), and their playing really compliments the songs quite well. The room was packed with fans (I'd wager that about 80% were asian) and those who were there for the other acts seemed to be won over by her.
     I love that she varies her set list every time I see her, but 45 minutes is just too short to get everything in. I wasn't planning on going to see her at the Borders Bookstore in Westwood tomorrow, but I think I just might have to so that I can request "Soon Love Soon". (4/04)
     Just saw Vienna Teng at the Hotel Cafe last night. Lovely show as always, marred by a few things, though. The mic on the upright piano was distorting, her vocals and Marika's cello were a little low in the mix, and Vienna seemed to have a tired voice, as she missed a few notes during a couple songs. Still, it makes me happy to see how confident she's become on stage, and how tight the arrangements and playing are with Marika Hughes and Dina Maccabee. (9/06, paul2k@aol.com)

short but sweet! lots o'new songs. lots o'musical talent on stage. lots o' spine-tingling moments. "feather moon" is so gorgeous i nearly died. (10/05)
     vienna was at the living room in rain-drenched noo yawk city last night. she did a solo set, but had two guests: co-bill sanders bolhke on vocals on bryan webb's "that's where i'll be" and the inimitable jim batcho on "1br/1ba".
     a very fun set indeed! and definitely worth the drive down from connecticut through the monsoon to get there. (11/06, woj@smoe.org)

For the record, every positive thing you've heard about Vienna Teng's concerts is true. She played solo yesterday afternoon at Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual Labor Day weekend arts festival, and was as wonderful as reviews here had led me to expect. She was personable and warm, telling stories about her music and offering other light chatter in between most of the songs. She was in great voice, and her piano playing was as wonderful as it is in studio.
     Set list: Vienna started with "My Medea," my favorite song from Warm Strangers. "Shasta" which I knew when she said she'd play a deceptively perky song, followed, of course, by "Homecoming." "Gravity," which she said was a personal love song, for a shy awkward little boy she was friends with in grade school who became the popular boy in high school. "The Tower." "Mission Street" which was written on guitar and during insomnia in a noisy new San Francisco apartment. A slower, mellower (more melancholy?) version of "Hope on Fire" preceded by the usual Greenpeace activist story. A song written for her father from her first album ("Daughter"). Damien Rice's "Cannonball." Because she was on the jazz stage she played a jazzy song she wrote in high school for a boy, a popular boy who played the piano in the cafeteria at lunch time, on whom she had a crush. For high school it was pretty good, nothing to be embarrassed by, though not up to the standard of her later work. Then for small children in the audience, "Anna Rose," though she said whenever she plays a lullaby children cry. This song came off very well on solo piano as the album version is too sweet. "Unwritten Letter #1," about falling in love with someone of the wrong sexual orientation. Apparently the guy and his partner have another of Vienna's songs as their song. Which is this next song, "Eric's Song." "Harbor," a 5/4 song that she calls the last in her arsenal of perky songs. I figured she'd end with "Green Island Serenade," so I was very happy she did. All in all a wonderful set. There was a long crowd for album sales/autographs afterwards which I was very happy to see. I hope Vienna made some new fans. She certainly made this old one very happy. (9/7/04)
     Vienna Teng—Triple Door, Seattle. My third time seeing Vienna. She had Marika Hughes with her on cello and a percussionist, Shahzad Ismaily, which was cool. I'd seen her with Marika before, who was lovely as usual, but hearing the songs with drums really gave them a different aspect than in the other performances. The set opened with a powerful and haunting version of "Feather Moon," followed by "Gravity," "Hope on Fire," "Shasta," "Blue Caravan," and "My Medea" which gave me chills. Solo she played a gospel-tinged Brian Webb song, "That's Where I'll Be" and "The Atheist's Christmas Carol." After a short break she came back and played "Eric's Song" and "Lullabye for a Stormy Night" solo, "Tower" with opening act David Berkeley on vocals, a new song "1BR/1BA" with full band (which included David on guitar). They started another new song after that, but, sadly, I had to leave. n between songs, Vienna was her usual charming self, so it was a great night even though it was cut a bit short. (11/27/05)
     Just got back from seeing Vienna Teng and friends at the Rockwood Music Hall, stage 2, in New York. Great music, ranging from solo to quartet; charming banter. The musicians all seemed very low-key. Vienna has an easy, friendly manner with the audience. Her guests did too. The room was crowded, which was good considering this seems to have been a fairly last minute gig. Of course the room isn't that big (neither is the stage). Still, I stood by the door.
     Vienna started the show by asking the audience for requests. I only heard a guy shout, "Surprise us!", but she said she heard "Shasta" and "Gravity," and she did play both. "Shasta" was first, solo. It seemed there was an echo coming from the vocal mic, but it either got fixed during the night or I stopped noticing it. Next she played an unrecorded song, "Everything's Fine," which she said was written with Amber Rubarth as part of an unreliable narrator assignment. Alex Wong joined her on guitar and vocals for "Gravity," which was quite slow and delicate. Vienna added some minimalist electronics she controlled with a device on top of the piano.
     Next up were a few non-Vienna songs. Alex introduced a song he'd written, saying that Vienna had yelled the first line (Don't be afraid of what you want) at him during an argument. He sang lead vocals and played guitar, Vienna played piano and sang, and Melissa Tong added violin. I wrote down the lyric "and if you close your fingers, ghosts will pass right through / and I'll be on the other side of the river waiting for you" because I love the image.
     Ari Hest made a different trio, singing and playing guitar for a song he said he wrote at the height of his Lost addiction, about the moment between inhaling and exhaling, between preparation and doing. It was the group's second time playing it together. I'll call the song "Green Light Go" for lack of a proper title. Alex switched to drums (or I think just one drum? a snare played with brushes?). Next was Ari's "Cranberry Lake," a sweet, folky song, done in the same guitar/piano/drum trio format. They had to restart the verse Vienna sang because Ari "forgot [she was] here" which made me laugh. I don't really mind when musicians mess up. It reminds me that they're human and that I'm getting something different from the album.
     Melissa came back for "Blue Caravan." Vienna wasn't sure everyone on stage had played it all together before. She confessed a sudden urge to hear keys tinkling during the song. The audience was happy to comply, so we jingled our keys during the opening bars and later as directed by Vienna.
     Ari's last song was "Sunset Over Hope Street" from his forthcoming album done as Vienna/Ari/Alex trio. After Ari left, Melissa returned to the stage, bringing her friend Ben Russell, also on violin, who was playing with Vienna for the first time. They did a gorgeous version of "Antebellum," which Vienna called "glorious." It really was.
     After that, another unrecorded song, played solo. "Pencil Sketch" with the lyric "dreams that want to be set down in charcoal and graphite." Alex returned to the stage and shared the piano bench with Vienna for "The Last Snowfall." He played piano while Vienna looped vocals and sang over them. I thought that would be the last song, but Melissa returned to the stage and Vienna asked the audience to clap for an energetic version of "Grandmother Song" that she clearly enjoyed. (7/10, JoAnn Whetsell)

Saturday nite I went downtown (Charlotte, NC) to catch Vienna's last show before the new album comes out. Alex Wong opened, and both appeared several times in each other's sets. Excellent show, with many old faves and a handful of new ones, plus the Bill Withers/Eminem encore. The show was added to the tour by a local fan with good connections who made it happen. He also purchased a lot of electric candles, which were handed out at the door with a note asking us to keep them a secret until "Soon Love Soon" was sung. Vienna was surprised when the audience suddenly burst into a sea of tiny lights as she taught us our harmony part (most already knew them). The evening's other surprise was her rendition of "Maya," a song she apparently sang the night before at a Toad the Wet Sprocket concert in town. (7/13, Ted Delorme)

Recommended first album:

Any

Recordings:


Waking Hour (original version)

Release info:

2001—Soltruna Records, P.O. Box 3004, Saratoga, CA 95070, USA

Availability:

Superceded by Waking Hour (Virt Records version); Vienna Teng may have some copies remaining

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—vocals, piano

Guest artists:

Ted Barramm—bass
Jim Batcho—drums
John Given—electric guitar
Dave Kim—violin
Eric Miller—synthesizers, bass, guitar
Peter Wetherbee—percussion

Produced by:

Eric Miller and Vienna Teng

Comments:

The entire album, well-crafted, with thoughtful, emotive lyrics and some stunning musical and vocal arrangements, is an excellent and exquisite work, with many surprises for the listener.
     Vienna's clear, articulate voice and subtle vocal harmonies remind me very strongly of Judy Tzuke's Welcome to the Cruise album from the late '70s, while I find the overall feel of the album to be very reminiscent of Fumbling toward Ecstasy in its intensity and mood, without it falling into that "me too" category in which some artists can find themselves.
     Fumbling toward Ecstasy has always been my favorite Sarah album, and my comparison to this album in particular is meant as a big compliment to Vienna's abilities. My lexicon is limited in this regard; doubtless other Ectophiles will be able to make broader comparisons.
     The opening track, "Momentum", as it built into the beautiful chorus, made me realize that this was not your basic indie release, and by the time I was listening to the fantastic "Between", with its low, growling, atmospheric backing and unexpected arrangement twists, I was completely hooked.
     "Gravity" is one of those rare love tracks capable of touching something deep within the listener; with its thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics and sublime delivery, one can hear the passion driving and inflecting Vienna's exquisite voice as she sings the words: "Hey love, I am a constant satellite/ to your blazing sun, my love/ I obey your laws of gravity/ This is the fate carved on me; the law of gravity".
     Waking Hour is a pure, shining gem. (phil@tiaranetworks.com)

When my Vienna Teng CD arrived I listened to it almost non-stop for a very long time. Waking Hour is absolutely marvelous. With superb piano play, a lush, melodic voice, and smart, heart-warming lyrics, I'd say that Vienna Teng should be at the top of any Ectophile's list.
     Waking Hour is as brilliant a debut album as they come.
     If you buy her CD, don't miss "Between", a song about love that's been broken apart. "Between" has a rhythm that varies as the song goes along, keeping in close step with the song's changing emotions. What's especially wonderful about Waking Hour is how the music by itself carries so much passion.
     Another wonderful song (they all are) is "Say Uncle." Like all of her songs, in "Say Uncle" there's an incomparable synergy between the music and the song's words. "Say Uncle" is about the memories that last after the love is gone: "I retrieve the memories quickly as I can / and add them to the portrait / we all draw in our minds / your body gone, we shall keep the man." It takes your breath away.
     "Lullaby for a Stormy Night" is a delicate song that calms a child's fear of a unsettled night. But the song is more than a mere lullaby, and through her exceptional writing, Teng turns the song into song about life and nature and childhood.
     At 23, Vienna Teng has written and sung songs so worldly and expressive, that you almost can't believe that they weren't written by somebody with twice her life experience.
     There's so much talent packed in this CD that it feels like it's about to burst. This is one of the most exceptional albums available anywhere. The songs are varied and unforgettable. Waking Hour is dazzling, and truly inspired. (billonline@adlerbooks.com)

The album is quite wonderful. Waking Hour is one of my *very* favorite albums from the year. (burka@jeffrey.net)

This is pretty much the find of the year. She has one of the most stunningly beautiful voices I've ever heard, which hints ever so subtle of Sinead Lohan. The lyrics are powerful, intelligent, and reflect the wisdom of a very wise and insightful being. Her piano playing is craftily refined and warmly expressive and ties everything tightly together. A very splendid creation indeed! (jsutton@rahul.net)

The most played CD this year. It's almost spooky how I'm not even remotely close to sick of it yet. (drumz@best.com)

I'll just reiterate what everyone here has been gushing about. Excellent, excellent CD. I play it often enough and it is great. (Matt.Bittner)

Just wanted to say that I got Waking Hour in the mail today, and I can't express how wonderful I thing it is. First time in a long time—maybe since Tori's Little Earthquakes—I haven't been able to hold back my tears while listening to an album.
     The most played CD this year—it has been living in my portable CD-player for most of the time I've had it only replaces for short periods about other great albums. It is surely gonna live with me on the front row for a quite some time. (onealien@mo.himolde.no)

Melodic, piano based; thoughtful, reflective, beautiful; stunning debut.
     I was suspicious at first because of the website description of these songs as aural photographs", in which the recordings (representations) on Waking Hour vary in fidelity to the songs themselves (mainly/all girls, like Tori's songs). I think I know what she means, and I love discussions about this side of artistic creation, how the song/picture/story/poem/thought that floats out there at the edges of one's mind is transformed as it is captured, recreated, imitated, or otherwise dragged into reality. Sometimes a song can become less unique and perfect due to limitations of technology or musicianship (or sometimes the reverse, when newcomers are forced to try unusual tactics to recreate their vision), or the music can be altered by others involved in the process who don't have the same vision (producers, musicians), and sometimes a song or other creation can never exist in the way it does in a dream, because artistic visions can contain intangible qualities of inspiration not replicable in sound.
     But I was nevertheless suspicious in case this was a pre-emptive defensive statement meaning "well, if you don't like the album, then it isn't the songs you don't like, just these versions." That seemed to be cheating, because if these aren't the best versions, then existing wonderfully elsewhere doesn't help me. This is probably displaced grumpiness at the opinion that Tori's Boys for Pele is better after hearing her live during that period—this may be true, but then that is a fault of the album as they are stand alone creations. Anyway...
     All-such was a damned stupid suspicion because the sound clips on Vienna's website revealed music of such beauty and delicacy and clarity. Not just a "one day she'll do great things" listening experience, but "wow wow wow *now*". The album lives up to the clips and thrills me as much as a full-length version of Sarah Slean"s Universe would have. Following that thought, to me Vienna Teng fills the niche at the more restrained end of the piano girl spectrum, where Sarah Slean was before she began her theatrical vermouth-swilling approach (which I love too). I was always a bit uncomfortable with Slean's niceness—even her sharpest lyrics were done in the most pleasant well-mannered way and I felt the songs wanted something more vibrant and uncontrolled, whereas Vienna Teng's singing and playing, I feel, is true to herself and her music.
     Ironically, I now love listening to Waking Hour with the comments on the differing photogenic qualities of these songs in mind. I can hear the "make-up" on "Between" and I enjoy both this version with her dangling ornaments and her simpler EP form. I'm trying to imagine the more beautiful beings that "Soon love soon" and "Drought" really are (can they be any more beautiful?). How would dressed up full-band versions of all the solo songs, and pared down versions of the elaborately recorded ones sound? It's like having both photos of friends dolled up at their best and posed with thought to how they're being viewed and what image they want to convey, as well as the photos in which they're grinning madly and goofing around.
     My only niggling comments are that "Enough to go by" is so different in style and instrumentation that it is unexpected and jars, the gospel tinged "Soon love soon" isn't quite my kind of song, and the chorus of "Momentum" applies the term "baby" to someone who isn't an actual baby, (or cat or penguin or polar bear or similar), and I'm funny about that word!
     If some of these recordings are ghosts of something magical that Vienna cannot yet create outside of her mind, or partially formed sketches which need practice and experimentation before their final form is realised, or songs which strayed away from their original nature because playing with instruments and layered voices was fun, then imagine the sparkling land they have come from, and I look forward to Vienna's "representations" of more of these beautiful creatures. It's fun to think of musicians as compilers of the authoritative wildlife-spotting guides for their world, each piece illustrating a song-being for outsiders, but perhaps never quite able to translate the song-creature precisely into the common music of our world. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

After seeing this on quite a few "best of 2001" lists, my friend Jennifer decided to order herself a copy and get me one too. It's absolutely great, so if you're at all interested in wonderful songs, a great voice and excellent piano playing, get yourself a copy. (mcurry@io.com)


Waking Hour (Virt Records version)

Release info:

2002—Virt Records—Virt 1003

Availability:

Places that carry U.S. indie releases, or see Virt Records website

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—vocals, piano, keyboards

Guest artists:

Jim Batcho—drums
John Given—electric guitar
David Henry—cello, bass, guitar
Will Kimbrough—acoustic and electric guityar
Eric Miller—synthesizers, bass, guitar
Peter Wetherbee—percussion
Craig Wright—drums
Jacob Eisenstein—bass on 1 track
Dave Kim violin on 1 track
Tiffany Shih—vocal on 1 track

Produced by:

Eric Miller and Vienna Teng, 3 songs by David Henry

Comments:

Vienna Teng's album gets a wider release which is great. This version doesn't really differ from the original one. So we still get tender and clever songs and a lovely voice. Nowhere is this clearer than on the heartbreaking "Between". It's one of the best songs on the breakup of a relationship I've ever heard. The song has a subtle melody and unfurls in a memorable way. The sweet "Say Uncle" is a good song that has a stirring chorus. "Enough to go By" is very catchy but still sensitive. Vienna Teng plays the piano beautifully and her sound is lush and rich. This record belongs in the collection of anyone with the slightest interest in good music. Lovely,literate music. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

Of the new recordings of 'gravity' and 'between', they're more filled out. Having drums leap in on 'gravity' takes some getting used to! The cello (?) rumbles along like it was always there, yey low grumbly instruments. I like songs where the strings are distinguishable, like in chamber music, rather than a sugary orchestral backdrop. The song will be 'immediate' to new listeners. Okay, I've played it 6 times now. The (third?) 'between' has atmospheric beepy noises in the background and maybe different drums; I haven't my copy of the original Waking Hour here to compare. The vocals are strong, Vienna enunciates beautifully as well as singing so well! (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

I finally got around to getting this album a couple weeks ago after reading all the positive reviews and listening to the samples a half dozen times over the past year. A lovely voice, strong songwriting, and not one filler track on the album. Highly recommended. (cdavis@tir.com)


Warm Strangers

Release info:

2004—Virt Records (PO Box 9142, Seattle, WA 98109)—VRT 1007

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—piano, vocals, marimba, lowery organ, wurlitzer, acoustic guitar, bag of bottles, broom, prepared piano, piano strings, hyperventilating

Guest artists:

Jim Batcho—drums, percussion, shakers, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, programming, hi hat, coffee maker, rhythm programming, bowed cymbal, preparing piano, cymbals, snare drum
Chris Carmichael—violins, viola, string arrangements
David Henry—cellos, euphonium, bass, horns, backing vocals, mandolin, lots of acoustic guitar editing, guitar, upright bass, vocal
Ned Henry—violin
Jacob Lawson—violin
Robbie Shankle—oboe, English horn
Steve Herman—flugelhorn, mariachi trumpet, trumpet
Will Kimbrough—slide and acoustic guitars

Produced by:

David Henry

Comments:

I've listened to the album a few times, and while I don't see it replacing Waking Hour in my affections, I'm not sure *anything* could replace Waking Hour in my affections. :) It's definitely a strong release, and I'd like to think that "Harbor" could be huge as a single if Virt can give it enough of a push. (drumz@best.com)

So far, the first half of the disc is kinda hit or miss with me, but the back half just blows me away, especially the last four songs. I've always thought she had a pleasant voice, a delicate voice; but she really demonstrates a power and passion that I hadn't heard before in those final tracks. *whew* (paul2k@aol.com)

I love Vienna Teng's Warm Strangers. By that I mean not just the album, but the people whose stories populate the album: Carrie (of "Shasta") and Walter (of "Homecoming"), the car accident victim of "Passage," the mother of "My Medea," the atheist of "The Atheist Christmas Carol."
     Vienna has a way of weaving images of nature, thoughts and questions about religion into music that is fresh. The piano is as wonderful as ever, and I love the horns and all the strings. This new album is more varied than
Waking Hour, and if not necessarily better, it's definitely at least as good.
     The album starts out with "Feather Moon," a song that starts out delicately but builds powerfully over the repeated chorus. It then moves into "Harbor" and "Hope On Fire," two better-than-pop songs which should be big radio hits if commercial success were determined by talent. "Harbor" is definitely the most infectious song on the album, one that has happily replayed itself in my head every day since I first heard it. The next two songs, "Shine" and "Mission Street" are lovely piano ballads that remind me most of Waking Hour. "My Medea" is, along with "Harbor," my favorite. Then the two paired story-songs, "Shasta" and "Homecoming." "Anna Rose" is probably the weakest song on the album, a lullaby that is almost too sweet. The a cappella "Passage" requires close attention to get the story of a car accident fatality and the people in her life who have moved on. It follows her survivors over the course of hours, months, years, as they move on, but without bitterness or blame. It could be overly sentimental, but it's not. The last listed track is "The Atheist Christmas Carol," a thoughtful meditation on the season from a different perspective. "Green Island Serenade," the untitled hidden track is perhaps the album's biggest treat, a simply and beautifully rendered Taiwanese melody. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I think Vienna was just about getting started when I joined this list, and I kind of went along, originally, out of curiousity and newbie courtesy. I thought her debut was really good, and certainly way ahead of the usual Toriaoke's. This, however—this is fantastic. I can't stop playing this album, and "Harbour" hasn't left my head for the last month. For me, this is such a perfectly realised, structured and executed album, full of such jagged beauty and tenderness and energy, it's taken a running leap into my BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR SO FAR category. I'm amazed because I expected the usual 2nd album syndrome, more of the same, but instead I find she's blossomed and moved forward with determination and class. Brilliant. Utterly brilliant and moving and breathtaking, from start to finish. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

So far, the first half of the disc is kinda hit or miss with me, but the back half just blows me away, especially the last four songs. I've always thought she had a pleasant voice, a delicate voice; but she really demonstrates a power and passion that I hadn't heard before in those final tracks. *whew* (paul2k@aol.com)

Warm Strangers is *wonderful* (meth@smoe.org)

This album is rather incredible. (burka@jeffrey.net)

gonna be hard to pick a favorite album if she continues on this road, but I don't complain at least. Another amazing album. (onealien@mo.himolde.no)


Dreaming Through the Noise

Release info:

2006—Zoë Records—01143-;1091-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—vocals, piano, esty organ, Wurlitzer

Guest artists:

Jay Bellerose—drums, percussion
Debra Fong—violin
Marika Hughes—cello
Carla Kihlstedt—violin
Dina Maccabee—viola, backing vocal (5)
Frank Marocco—accordion
Dean Parks—guitars, mandolin, pedal steel, e—bow
David Piltch—bass, bowed double bass
Lee Thornburg—flugelhorn, trumpet
Mark Orton—string arrangements
Till Brönner—trumpet (7)
Kyler England—backing vocal (5)
Larry Klein—bass (2)

Produced by:

Larry Klein

Comments:

The best song on Vienna Teng's new album is undoubtedly "Pontchartrain," a powerful response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster on the Gulf Coast. What I appreciate most about the album, and what it took me several listens to notice, is the quiet growth in Vienna's songwriting. Overall, the songs don't sound much different from those on Warm Strangers. "City Hall" especially reminds me of "Homecoming," and much of this album is reminiscent of "Homecoming," "Shasta," and "Mission Street" of the previous album. But there's definite growth; the stories are more evoked than told. The arrangements have evolved too. It's audible in the way she builds "Blue Caravan" and "Love Turns 40" from simple piano and voice to lush, orchestral swells without melodrama or sappiness. This, of course, was finely demonstrated on "Feather Moon," but it's used here more often and more dramatically, exemplified by the turn from simple voice and piano melody to full-out tango on "I Don't Feel So Well," my favorite song on the album. She also is confident enough of her jazz leanings to record them on "Transcontinental, 1:30 A.M." and "1 BR/1BA."
     Still, I think I appreciate the album more in my head than love it in my heart. But that may change, and I may feel differently about it in a year or two or five. Already I find that with each new listen the album draws me in more. And it rewards the listener who stays with it til the end; the last three songs ("Now Three," "Pontchartrain," and "Recessional" are three of the album's best.
     I don't know if Dreaming is Vienna's best album. But it is a very good album and shows an artist stretching her wings, always a good thing to hear. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I need to listen to this disc a little more, but so far I'm hugely, HUGELY disappointed. I loved her debut and I adored Warm Strangers, but this time around she has penned a set of tunes that just don't seem appropriate for her voice, in my opinion. The tunes themselves are alright if not fantastic. They seem more jazzy, orchestrated, and laid back, but her etheral voice just isn't sexy enough to make these tunes sparkle. What I love about artists like Corrinne May, Faye Wong, and Sandy (the Hong Kong Chinese wonder) is the way they use their etheral voices to create these mindblowingly beautiful soundscapes. In the case of Vienna I really truely miss the girl and her piano or the Rufus-like splendour of "My Medea"... (christina_skov@hotmail.com)

The album hasn't grabbed me as immediately as the other two, but is quickly growing on me. She has a wider palette on this one, in terms of both orchestration and lyrics. "City Hall" is a wonderfully topical song (though its topicality is beneath the surface) and "Pontchartrain" touches on the aftermath of Katrina better than most songs that I've heard. She does seem to be stepping out more into the stories of other people rather than drawing so much from within (a step begun in Warm Strangers' "Shasta (Carrie's Song)" and "Homecoming (Walter's Song)"), and the songs feel a bit less emotionally direct, but they feel easier to grasp on a first listen, and to leave room for the arrangements to have their impact.
     I get the sense that the catchier songs are front-loaded and the meatier ones are toward the back. The hooks that have gotten stuck in my head are all from the first few songs. (jzitt@humansystems.com)

my first several listens, on the living room stereo, the album didn't leave much of an impression, despite the initial ear-perk that the song "whatever you want" caused when that was uploaded to her myspace page a few weeks ago. but, more recent listens, on headphones, have really caught my ear.
     on one level, i don't really disagree with you. this is a strange and elusive album and the choice of instrumentation is particularly odd given her earlier work and the fact that this is, for all intents and purposes, a major label debut.
     on the other hand, i kinda like the relatively sparse and restrained arrangements. yes, the tone is relatively consistent from song to song, but each is leavened with healthy hints of different styles so the album doesn't really suffer from all-sounds-the-same syndrome—at least on repeated listens for me anyway. and that keeps the listener focused on her words, which is really her strength, no matter how good her piano playing or quirkless her voice is. ;) in fact, this is about the fastest i've really picked up the lyrics of any album in a long time.
     that said, there are some really striking musical passages here as well: the stand-out track "pontchartrain" is harrowingly beautiful, the bill frisell-ish guitar on "recessional" mirrors the reflectiveness of the lyrics to perfect effect, and the folksy piano in "city hall" is, for lack of a better word, yummy.
     you know, another strange thing about this album is that, for me at least, the back half is a lot stronger than the front half. "city hall" and onward are all much meatier to my ears than the first few songs. (woj@smoe.org)

Not as immediately captivating as her previous two albums, but still a fine effort that rewards repeated listening. Highlighted by "Pontchatrain," a slow, sad dirge. (josh@cajo.org)

I'm really liking Dreaming Through the Noise. As of yet, I'm not hearing a cohesiveness to the album like there was with Warm Strangers, where the sequence of tracks really flowed. However, the individual songs all do share a certain quality that feels more mature. I especially LOOOOOOVE "Pontchartrain". So danny elfmanesque. And Kyler does bg vox on "City Hall"! Yay! (paul2k@aol.com)


Inland Territory

Release info:

2009—Zoë Records—01143-1125-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—vocals, piano, keyboards; horn arrangements (4, 9)

Guest artists:

Jeff Allen—bass (2, 4, 7–9, 12)
John Astaire—marimba (3); chimes (8); percussion (10)
Kiyanu Kim—guitars (1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Kaki King—guitars (9, 12)
Alex Wong—drums, percussion, programming; vocals (1, 3, 10, 11); keyboards (2, 8, 11); acoustic guitar (6, 12); string arrangements & conducting (3, 7, 10); horn arrangements (4, 9); woodwind arrangement (5)
Odessa Chen, Ari Hest, Noe Venable—vocals (1)
Jewlia Eisenberg, Cynthia Taylor—vocals (6)
Marika Hughes—cello (3, 7, 10); vocals (6)
Eddie Jackson—piano bench (6)
Sharon Hawley, Dan Matarozzi, Alex Miller, Emily Miller, Renata Miller, Tracy Wong, Kate Yachuk—claps & stomps (6)
Julian Velard—vocal (11)
Kevin Rice—drums, pots &s; pans (11)
Rob Moose, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi—violin I (3, 7, 10)
Claudia Chopek, Conrad Harris, Susan Perelman—violin II (3, 7, 10)
Jonathan Dinklage, Todd Low—viola (3, 7, 10)
Dina Maccabee—viola (3, 7, 10); fiddle (6)
Paul Brantley, Eric Cheng—cello (3, 7, 10)
Gregg August, Jeffrey Carney—double bass (3, 7, 10)
Raul Agraz—trumpet (4, 9)
Joe Fiedler—trombone (4, 9)
Beth Custer, Ben Goldberg—clarinet (5)
Carla Wilson—bassoon (5)

Produced by:

Alex Wong & Vienna Teng

Comments:

I'm thrilled by only two songs: "White Light" and one other, the name of which I forget. Inland Territory is better than her previous CD, but in my opinion it doesn't compare to either of her first two. (dbailey4117@gmail.com)

I'm totally enthralled by Vienna's new album, at least the first 8 tracks. For some reason I don't spend as much time with the last 4, though the more I listen to them the more I like them too.
     But back to the beginning.
     There's the opener, "The Last Snowfall"—lovely sentiment, lovely vocals. "White Light," about corporate crime, is the 'pop' hit of the album. "Antebellum" is one of my favorites, not only of this album but I think of Vienna's songs. "Kansas" there's something just a little piano blues bar about. "In Another Life" and "Grandmother Song" make a pair that are most stylistically different for this album and of Vienna's music. "Stray Italian Greyhound" and "Augustine" are my very favorites of this album and always get stuck in my head. The two are almost the last pop songs of the album. Three of the last 4 tracks are softer, quieter, slower starting with the thought-provoking immigration song "No Gringo."
     Overall, it's a wonderful album, much stronger than Dreaming Through the Noise. (JoAnn Whetsell)

i absolutely adore it, it feels like a return to form after the last one. i'm totally in love with this album.
     i honestly am still at the point of listening to it as a whole and don't have lots of comments on individual songs, really, yet. i love her talent for telling stories, though, and i really like the 'what if' story of "in another life".
     "grandmother song" somehow makes me think of christine fellows' "spinster's almanac", so much so that each time i hear one of them now i immediately want to listen to the other. very different songs but somehow they go together.
     the whole thing is beautiful. (damon)

Again, an album I thought I'd like a lot more than it turned out. I loved the first few tastes we got on the net, but repeated listens haven't done anything for me and, as an album, I just don't think it hangs together. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)


The Moment Always Vanishing

Release info:

2010

Availability:

See Vienna Teng's site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—piano, vocals
Alex Wong—percussion, guitar, synth, vocals

Guest artists:

Ward Williams—cello, guitar, vocals

Produced by:

Vienna Teng, Alex Wong, and Amy Cox

Comments:

Vienna's first live album, recorded in December 2009 while touring as a duo with Alex Wong, is a lovely addition to her collection of releases. Of the 24 tracks, 14 are songs while the remaining 10 are spoken exchanges between Vienna and Alex and between Vienna and the audience. The easy camaraderie that I've seen them express on stage comes alive. The whole album feels very intimate and makes you believe you're in the audience or the musicians are in your living room. And the music is wonderful. Half the songs are pulled from Inland Territory, while 5 are from her three previous albums, and 2 are new (Alex sings lead vocals on one of these). All the banter is recorded as separate tracks, which makes them easy to skip if you want. I usually listen to the album straight through at home but have only the music tracks on my iPod.
     The album is available on iTunes and Amazon.com, as well as Vienna's website where you can select from three different packages depending on your budget and interest in extras like songs, videos, photos, and essays. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Aims

Release info:

2013—Soltruna Records—7 00261 38963 9

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Vienna Teng—vocals, keyboards, piano, guitar, percussion

Guest artists:

Cason Cooley—keyboards, programming, percussion, backing vocals
Nathan Dugger—guitars
Alex Wong—vocals, keyboards, percussion (9)
Will Sayles—programming, drums, percussion
Tony Lucido—bass
Ben Shive—string arrangements
David Davidson—violin, viola
David Angell—violin
John Catchings—cello
John Mark Painter—horns
Glen Phillips—vocals (3)
Vinsula Hastings, Scot Kleinman, Czarecah Tuppil Oropilla, Jean Guadaña, Flynn, Sharon Kaplan, Jon Fuller—narration (8)

Produced by:

Cason Cooley and Vienna Teng

Comments:

Much more electronic and far less piano-driven than her previous albums, but still very much Vienna and, most importantly, very good. About half the songs I loved right away and about half I had trouble connecting with, but after repeated listens I grew to love the entire album and can recommend it whole-heartedly. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I'm enjoying the Vienna Teng, it's so different from her previous material and full of life and interesting things, although somewhat mystified by the lyrics, which I find are drowned out, unusually for her.
     Later: Wow!! What a magnificent, powerful album this is, what a change from her last couple, as if she's been inspired and energised by some wonderful force. It's fantastic, it really is—politics, electronica, passion, all rolled up in one brilliant work. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

I love the new Vienna Teng. Obviously, it's a radical departure from her previous piano heavy releases (which I adore), but I find it really refreshing, much in the same vein as Imogen Heap with strong material and great lyrics. I find myself humming these songs all day. Of course, I'm particularly fond of the track "Copenhagen (Let Me Go)." (christina_skov@hotmail.com)

a surprisingly uplifiting and upbeat album without being saccharine. (jjhanson@att.net)

IÕm stunned by Vienna Teng's accomplishments. She's an amazing musician, she's a computer programmer, she can sing, dance and she's still studying. (I wish I had half of her talents in either of these fields.) And now it turns out she's also socially and environmentally conscious, in addition to being a simply amazing person. Her time studying sustainability has mothered this new album that manages to face the grim state of our world with a hopeful outlook. (raschee@gmail.com)

I must admit that I didn't like it very much at first listen, but it's been growing on me and I'm beginning to like more and more of the songs. (Marion)


Thanks to Bill Adler, Phil Hudson, Anna Maria Stjärnell, and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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