Coming Out Of Country
All You Can Eat, Drag,
Warner CD Stock Numbers
How is it, I ask myself, that a wonderful audio site like Enjoy the Music.com™ can have such stirring music reviews. Those from Sarah McLachlin and Patricia Barber for instance, yet miss such widely acclaimed favorites like Dina Krall and K.D. Lang? This serious omission is clearly an oversight due to hectic schedules, for the two artists deserve to be on everybody's short list of favorite female vocalists.
Not the least of the two artists is k.d. lang (editor's note, we have capitalized all from here on out), whose self-deprecating and non-capitalized style resembles that of our astute publisher. She too is shrewd and determined to go her own way. When writing about K.D. Lang, one has to comment on the duality of her music, for there are two K.D. Langs.
The First K.D. Lang
The first K.D. Lang is a female country singer from Canada, striking out on her own with mellow Patsy Cline style crooning. This K.D. Lang released her first major label album in 1987, causing considerable consternation in the world of country music traditions with "vaguely campy approach, androgynous appearance, and edgy, rock-inflected music". She recorded with Roy Orbison on his old hit "Crying," for the film "Hiding Out". This marked, marking her first appearance on the country charts.
In 1989, the first K.D. Lang released the harder-edged Absolute Torch and Twang, increasing her mainstream country audience. She won a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for the album when "Full Moon of Love" became a Top 25 hit. The new attention made k.d. lang a minor celebrity, turning her 1990 protest against meat eating into a minor media sensation. Despite such critical acclaim, reviewers said that "very few observers knew what to make of her or her music." What they really meant is that K.D. Lang is gay. So any attempt to put the manly dressing, yet soulful female singer into the classic torchy singer role is an attempt to put a square peg in a round hole. Although no one questions her considerable vocal talents, the yokels in Nashville did not know quite what to make of this ebullient square peg.
The yokels did not know quite what to make of this ebullient square peg.
The confusion has not dissipated over the course of her career, even when she abandoned country music in 1992, with her fourth album, Ingenue (Sire).
The Second K.D. Lang
The second K.D. Lang is a quieter, mellower chanteuse of the adult contemporary pop/jazz genre. Followers of the first camp do not belong in the second. People who think her Absolute Torch and Twang was the height of her country achievement, will not like the reborn city folk she has become. Be forewarned, I am not in the former camp. Except for some catchy tunes like "Achey-Breaky Heart", the only country I enjoy is Paula Cole's strident "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" (This Fire, Warner 1996) and guilty peeks at the slinky Shania Twain strutting across the TNN stage.
Just to let you know, I think that the best country western song was written by Mick Jagger! Which says a lot about my take on the stuff that country western calls "music". Decades ago, Mick drawled in his distinctly British twang:
"A man came on the radio, and he said, you know you always have the Lord by your side.
When he sang those words to live by on "The Girl with the Far-Away Eyes," I never came closer to country music. Even writing this made me fire up the tubes for the local smooth jazz station. If anybody could get me close to that stuff they call country music, it would be a lesbian cowgirl as handsome as Keanu Reeves. Thankfully, K.D. Lang is now on the pop/jazz side of the road.
The new sound of the second K.D. Lang is free of nasal twang, banjos, slide guitars and childish rhythms. If anything, the second K.D. Lang is languid and sedate. In the deliberate fashion many jazz aficionados relish; she keeps you yearning for the next note. Four albums mark K.D. Lang's transition from the first to the second:
1. 1992 Ingénue Sire
Ingenue, which is not reviewed here, is a set of adult contemporary pop songs owing very little to country. It's first single, "Constant Craving," became a Top 40 American hit, winning the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance! It led the album to platinum status in America, Britain, and Australia; then double platinum in Canada. You go, girl!
After reviewing the three other albums (All You Can Eat, Drag and Invincible Summer), one thing stands out clearly. Looks, style, fashion and sexual preferences aside, K.D. Lang has an incredible voice. Though Madonna may reinvent her looks with each new tour and album, K.D. Lang apparently cannot get way with image re-interpretations - her changing audience doesn't get it. However in the end, it is only the music that matters, only the music that we enjoy; in the end, what K.D. Lang delivers is her memorable voice, fine imagery and emotional responses.
K.D. Lang 's range is malleable and strong. Her music creates emotions that are haunting, sultry and almost, but not quite, sensuous. She does not have the power to overwhelm the instruments. She completes the music, not competes with it. She and the song are one. Her lyrics are simple, but direct and effective; never forced and the words wrap around the music as her voice envelops the words.
It is easy to describe what her voice is not. Unlike the lofty and long solos that impresario Sarah McLachlin gives, for example,
K.D. Lang stays within her range. She allows her timbre and tone to speak for itself. She does not have the large strength of Diana Krall, the rocking punch of Melissa Etheridge, or the bite of Alanis
Morrisette. K.D. Lang is liquid and smooth like warm honey. She is more like gentle
Sade, then rusty Stevie Nicks. She doesn't have the woody chocolate of Tracy Chapman, but does have some of Linda Ronstadt's lilt - though not as much as the Irish lilt of Delores O' Riordan.
It is unusual that this album wasn't more successful. Songs like "Sexuality", "Get Some" and "I Want It All" reverberate with the selfish thirst for love (and greed) that feeds us all, providing some of K.D. Lang's most joyous-sounding vocals and overall finest moments. These are songs of longing. K.D. Lang sounds strong, confused, yearning, confident, and sensuous. Underlying this expressive versatility is her compelling voice - it soars and warms, soothes and excites.
Throughout the disc, K.D. Lang 's glorious voice is awash in crisp drum rhythms, tasteful instrumental flourishes and lush self-harmonies. Most of the tunes on this minimalist album have one verse and bridge, one chorus, a short solo, and another chorus leading to an abrupt finish. With the elegance of a late night smoky-club jazz, and a voice as crisp and clear as a mountain stream, the sound wraps around and envelops you in a dreamy, yearning mood.
Her Drag is a playful enigma. On the cover, the "square-pegged" country singer dresses in a man's black pinstripe suit. Inside is a collection of a dozen tunes with "smoking" themes that are more sensual, seductive, and above all "smoky", than her other offerings. Smoking, as in the sense of lingering lust, smoldering love and neglected cigarettes while the lovers resume their passionate embraces. Songs of "Smoking In Bed", "Last Cigarette" and "Old Addictions", done in a simple jazz club fashion, carry the analogy further. The album is not about being "in drag". It is about the drag that life is without love. The black-faced CD is a bete noire of country music.
Invincible Summer is the lightest of her three offerings reviewed here. It is just as compelling as the other two, but doesn't have the playful inventiveness of Drag, nor the memorable melodies of All You Can Eat. If you like the second K.D. Lang then you will like this work too. If you buy any two of the others, buy this one too.
When the air is crisp and a breeze is blowing on a fine Saturday afternoon, you rock to Melissa, Delores or Alanis. When the afternoon has cooled down and the sun is setting, you thrill to Stevie or Sarah. As the evening sets in, dinner is on the table, and it is time to turn to K.D. lang. As the night wanes, you move from her to the mellow jazz renditions of Diana Krall. Once a square bird in Nashville's round holes, K.D. Lang did not fit into country. But here, in the company of other wonderful female pop/jazz songbirds, she fits in just fine.
On her second body of work, K.D. Lang has come out of country; come to the city of contemporary pop/jazz; come home to roost. And I say, "welcome". For little do I care of her politics. Little do I care of her dress. Little do I care of her birth in that stuff that they call "country". All I care about is her music and her singing. K.D. Lang has one hellva voice.
Sound Quality: 80