Saturday, October 29, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 333: K.D. Lang

As I sit down to write this review, I realize that with only two days left in October I haven't even broken double digits in music reviews. This is usually because my writing mind is otherwise occupied, in this case with a recent chapter addition to my book.

So what I'm saying is, I'm getting my creative fix, even if you aren't getting yours. Besides, as Earle Birney writes in his poem, David, "Do you want to climb this mountain or just get to the top?"

Here's the next disc, from a Canadian treasure, Ms. K.D. Lang.

Disc 333 is...Ingenue

Artist: K.D. Lang

Year of Release: 1992

What’s Up With The Cover?: The usual 'big head' shot that artists tend to go for from time to time. This cover's simplicity matches well to the music within, tasteful, refined and classy, with a hint of melancholy.

How I Came To Know It: This is one of Sheila's discs. I had heard the hits off this record when it came out, but never the whole record until she introduced me to it.

How It Stacks Up: We have two K.D. Lang albums: this one and the more traditional country and western album, "Absolute Torch and Twang." Of the two, "Ingenue" is by far the superior record.

Rating: 4 stars.

Anyone who watched the Vancouver 2010 Olympics would have been recently reminded of what a great Canadian treasure we have in K.D. Lang. She was easily the best thing about the opening ceremonies, belting out Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in a way that brought tears to your eyes. At the time I wasn't sure if they were tears of national pride or basic human longing, I just knew I enjoyed the cry. After enduring many years of this song being butchered by a hundred different pop star wannabes, it was refreshing to rehabilitate it and show just what can be done in the hands of a true master.

Yes, the woman does have a couple of obvious negatives. First, like E.E. Cummings, she doesn't seem to know how to use capital letters properly (hint: your name is a proper noun, Ms. Lang). Not to worry, though, gentle readers, this blog entry has made the necessary corrections. Second, if her appearance at the Olympics is any guide, she sometimes forgets to wear shoes, which could be dangerous during an Alberta winter.

That's where the weaknesses end. Lang has one of the great voices of our time. It is full and pure and rangy, the kind of voice I imagine hearing early in the morning across some lake out in the country's hinterlands. Canada's a big place, and Lang's voice is big enough to fill it up with room to spare.

This was evident on her earlier country albums, but in 1992 "Ingenue" took her in a new direction. She went from classic country songs to a more crooner style which really let her show off her pipes. The songs would challenge most singers, but Lang not only hits every note, she does it effortlessly.

The sparse arrangements made me think of fellow Canadian Holy Cole's 1993 masterpiece "Don't Smoke In Bed" and it wouldn't at all surprise me if Ms. Cole was listening a lot to "Ingenue" during the making of that record. (Note: this is entirely supposition on my part, but you gotta admit, it makes sense if you've heard both records).

There are no misses on the record (although there is a Miss, of course, in the person of "Miss Chatelaine." The hits (the aforementioned "Miss Chatelaine" and "Constant Craving") are both excellent, but we've all heard about them before. Two other songs jumped out at me on this listen that I wasn't expecting.

The first was "Still Thrives This Love", with its slow marimba beat and Dean Martin delivery, except when she swells into vocal territories that Dean couldn't follow. This is a subtly powerful song, and like the record itself, sneaks up on you with its strength and emotionally powerful undercurrents.

I also enjoyed "Season of Hollow Soul" which has the same haunting quality that later Leonard Cohen songs manage, and although the lyrics aren't at that level, they are pretty good. Besides, Lang could sing a Macdonald's menu and make it sound good. "Season of Hollow Soul" also shows the good production decisions made on this record, with a slow almost overly quiet start, swelling up into Lang at full voice and then a bridge of violin instrumental before her voice launches back in, powerful like the sea and just as full of fluid range.

This album is one that of those rare albums that langorously puts you under a spell as you listen. It affects your mood for the better, and listening to it while I painted this afternoon actually made me feel so content that now I'm a little sleepy and ready for a nap. I almost gave it five stars, but to keep my hard marker reputation, I'll stick with four.

Best tracks: Miss Chatelaine, So It Shall Be, Still Thrives This Love, Season of Hollow Soul, Constant Craving

1 comment:

Kim said...

I also loved K.D. sing at the Olympics. If that did not make a Canadian swell with Maple Leaf pride, nothing would!
She knocks me out! I used to despise that old Tom Jones song: "What's New Pussycat," but when I heard K.D. belt that one out, I had my ear cocked & surprised myself by really enjoying her version. Also love her sing that old 60's song, "Johnny Get Angry."