k.d. lang made a big splash in the 1980s as a pioneer in the "alt-country" field; over the years she's dropped most of the twang in favor of old-school, jazzy pop-vocals crooning... But for twangfans, that early stuff still holds some pleasant memories. Here's a quick look...
k.d. lang "Angel With A Lariat" (Sire, 1987)
(Produced by Dave Edmunds)
In retrospect, the driving, bouncy, mix provided by producer Dave Edmunds (of Rockpile fame) may have been a little too aggressive and 'billyish for Ms. Lang, a genre and gender-busting Canadian torch singer with a penchant for twang and a big lesbian following... But it did the trick getting her foot in the door and making a big splash as a founding member of the nascent alt-country scene of the late '80s... Even though this is one of her more overtly "country" records, I wouldn't rate is as one of my faves: the music is played at too manic a clip, and as too much of a joke... I can see how some of it might have been a welcome antidote for some of the excesses of the straight/mainstream country dance scene, but it sells her short as a singer. Lots of near misses, like her too-tinny cover version of "Rose Garden" and the jittery hillbilly boogie of "Pay Dirt." Exuberant, but it sounds rushed and over-amped.
k.d. lang "Shadowland: The Bradley Barn Sessions" (Sire, 1988)
(Produced by Owen Bradley)
Ever conscious of the rigors of retro-hiposity, lang made a pilgrimage to the production studios of Owen Bradley, one of the great architects of the Nashville studio sound of the 1950s and '60s,. She takes full advantage of the presence of veteran studio cats like Harold Bradley, Hargus Robbins and Pete Wade, the flowery string sections, and the doo-dooo-ooooo-oooo background vocals of the Jordanaires and Tennessee... This album gave lang her biggest country hit, "I'm Down To My Last Cigarette," but also some of her schmaltziest, most memorable moments of countrifying, and laid the foundation for her claim to the mantle of Patsy Cline, country's one true queen of countrypolitan torchsinging. Speaking of country foremothers, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells join Katheryn Dawn on a quaint (though sluggish) "Honky Tonk Angels Medley." This album's campy and sedate, but certainly worth checking out.
k.d. lang "Absolute Torch And Twang" (Sire, 1989)
(Produced by k.d. lang, Ben Mink & Greg Penny)
A pretty fun, pretty slick, pretty laid-back set which still has enough of a twangy, rootsy bite to keep my interest. After the strong opening numbers, "Luck In My Eyes" and her cover of Willie Nelson's "Three Days," she starts to slide a little, and my attention starts to wander on certain songs... You can kinda see where she's headed from here, but this still can be considered one of her early "country" albums, and it's certainly worth checking out. Also has a nice cover of Wynn Stewart's "Big Big Love," a mildly raunchy double entendre tune which takes a bizarre twist when sung by a gal... Oh, that wacky, campy cowgirl! A nice smooth album that makes country safe for folks who don't like country.
k.d. lang "Ingenue" (Sire, 1992)
(Produced by k.d. lang, Ben Mink & Greg Penny)
Not so much "country," but still quite nice. There's a pedal steel lacing through the record here and there, but this is really a rather straightforward, very dreamy pop album. Several beautiful songs stand out, particularly "Mind Of Love," with its warm, hypnotic refrain... Her longtime band, the Reclines, really hit their stride here -- here's an artist who's supremely comfortable in the studio, and the right musicians to back her up... This is certainly one of, if not the, best k.d. lang album.
k.d. lang "All You Can Eat" (Warner Brothers, 1996)
(Produced by k.d. lang, Ben Mink & Marc Ramaer)
Oh, whatever. She's clearly too much of a "star" by now, and thinking far too deep of thoughts... This slow, poppish album is a bit dreary, with only a faint vestige of country twang left in the mix, and a lot of big, bombastic belting. Still, despite those showy vocal key changes, a few songs, like "You're OK," are kinda sweet. Mostly, this is a bit much, though. Not my cup of tea.
k.d. lang "Live By Request" (Warner, 2001)
A rock-solid, crowd-pleasing, croonalicious concert by the majestic Ms. lang. I guess it would be silly to point out that she really overdoes the schmaltz on a few tunes ("Crying," for example)... Especially since I'm pretty sure it's all on purpose. But when she plays it straight (if you'll pardon the expression), it's pretty darn good. Recommended.
Jennifer Lauletta "The Mind Of Love: Jennifer Lauletta Sings The Songs Of k.d. lang" (A Nest Of Eggs, 2008)
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