k.d. lang

Sire, 1992

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Every so often while perusing my music collection, I’ll cross-check it against the Vault’s database of (circa February 2008) over 5,200 reviews of over 2,500 artists, thinking to myself “Surely we’ve reviewed _______ before.”

First of all, no, and second of all, don’t call me Shirley. (Sorry, too easy…)

Whaaaat?  We’ve never reviewed k.d.-freakin’-lang?  Are you kidding me?

But it’s true, this will in fact be the first review of the amazing Ms. lang’s work to grace the virtual pages of the Vault.  Not that the DV has ever really specialized in the lesbian cowgirl torch-singer genre -- it’s not exactly lowest-common-denominator stuff, and we have more than our share of classic rockers and metalheads on the staff -- but k.d. lang is one of the top vocal talents of her generation.

I was first introduced to lang -- and yes she really means it about the no-caps thing with her name, so what the hell -- by the same friend who convinced me to give Garth Brooks and the Mavericks and other genre-busting quote-unquote country artists a try.  And I’ve been forever grateful, even if I found the countrified cabaret that is Absolute Torch & Twang a bit of a challenge.

What shone through at every turn, though, was the voice -- that is to say, The Voice.  Lang is blessed with an instrument for the ages, one of the purest, richest, strongest sets of pipes I’ve ever heard.  And -- here comes her biggest pro and biggest con -- she knows it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ingenue was lang’s breakout album in multiple senses of the word.  After starting out as a virtual tribute act to her idol Patsy Cline, with Ingenue she abandoned the country genre that had – at least in America – been reluctant to accept her as one of their own, given her unconventional melding of styles (50s rockabilly, traditional country and torchy ballads) and androgynous appearance.  Moving to a heavily torch and jazz-influenced contemporary pop sound, lang also, just before this album’s release, came out as a lesbian.  Which might seem like a non-issue in 2008, but in 1992 it was actually a bit of a risk, even if it wasn’t much of a surprise.

The third breakout came when the album soared on the wings of dynamite single “Constant Craving,” a Top 40 hit that manages to meld the spiritual with the physical while conveying a feverish desire for both kinds of fulfillment. The song went on to win one of the most well-deserved Grammy awards ever, for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, catapulting the album further up the charts.

As is often the case, though, the single only tells a paragraph of this album’s story.  Where “Craving” is upbeat and expansive and full of simmering appeal, as a whole Ingenue is more introspective, a drawing inward as opposed to -- paradoxically enough -- a coming-out party.  Cuts like the slinky opener “Save Me” and the brooding “So Shall It Be” shimmer with a jazzy elegance that forms the perfect bed for lang’s soaring vocals.  She can get playful, as in the rather campy “Miss Chatelaine,” but more characteristic of this disc are the contemplative intensity of “The Mind Of Love,” “Outside Myself” and “Season Of Hollow Soul.”

This is one of those albums I don’t listen to that often, and yet regard almost worshipfully.  It captures a specific mood -- an introspective mood -- that you have to be aligned with to fully appreciate in the moment.  What is easy to appreciate at any time, though, is the raw talent of the woman behind the microphone on these tracks. The purity of lang’s tone, and the way she controls the build to capitalize on just the right emotional moment to unleash her stunningly powerful voice, is simply phenomenal.

You could argue that this album -- other than “Constant Craving” -- isn’t terrifically accessible to the average listener.  But you could never argue that it’s anything less than a terrific showcase for one of the great vocal talents of our time.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire, and is used for informational purposes only.