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Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng envisions the day when real musicians are as hyped as American Fool contestants.

The tragedy of American Idol's karaoke sweepstakes is amplified in the person of Vienna Teng, whose talents include not only a warm, smoky voice, but piano, songwriting, and composing chops that beg for the attention squandered on Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken.

A Stanford grad and onetime software engineer with Cisco Systems, Teng quit her job two years ago to tour in support of her full-length debut, Waking Hour. Her bright, airy, melodic pop recalls Paula Cole and Tori Amos, and is arrayed in lush, dramatic arrangements of horns, violins, and cellos. The 27-year-old Asian-American pianist, who began playing at the age of five, displays increasing lyrical sophistication on her latest album, Warm Strangers. While the first half is a little heavy on inspirational, hang-in-there-kitty pop ballads, she shows greater facility with the wistful, Chapin-style bird's-eye folk-pop on the second half. Teng even takes intriguingly offbeat turns on the a cappella "Passage," which richly imagines the fading memory of an accident victim, and the album-closing "The Atheist Christmas Carol," venerating "the season of bowing our heads in the wind / And knowing we are not alone in fear / Not alone in the dark."


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