lang Salutes Fellow Canadian Singer/Songwriters

A collection of songs mostly written by fellow-Canadians is kind of a thin album concept in my book. Frank's Come Fly With Me-now there was a concept album! And Lang hasn't exactly chosen adventurously-you can probably name them all without having read the credits. Can it be that there are no obscure Canadian singer/writers worthy of our attention?

I'm just being crabby. Lang has chosen the usual exalted suspects: two songs each from Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Jane Siberry plus one apiece from Bruce Cockburn and Ron Sexsmith, as well as an original co-written with David Piltch.

I would like to have heard Lang's take of Ian Tyson's “Some Day Soon,” in place of one of the twofered artists, but enough quibbling: there's much to be thankful for here, starting of course with Lang's buttery voice, which protectively raps itself around the lyrics and delivers them worshipfully as the album title promises.

Thanks to a stately, elegiac, string-drenched arrangement, Neil Young's apocalyptic/Sci-Fi vision “After the Goldrush” becomes more of a stained glass window religious experience than a bombed out basement psychedelic delusion, but it works unselfconsciously as a statement and as a mood-setter for the whole collection.

Next up is “Simple,” an original, simply built upon piano, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar, that has enough gorgeous melodic twists within its complex structure, it could have come from the pen of Elvis Costello.

A cover of Young's “Helpless,” is the sets weakest cover in my opinion, perhaps because it's not one of his most inspired creations and because Young's whiney “helpless” felt more helpless than Lang's muscular refrain, which sounds well equipped. For this vibe I'll take Gram Parsons's “Hickory Wind” anytime, but even the set's low point is high.

As with “Helpless,” Joni Mitchell's “A Case of You,” which comes next, makes a direct geographical reference to the home country and casts her voice in a high and sweet pitch backed only by piano. When Lang sings “I could drink a case of you,” she takes it to an intensity the original only suggests, and the rest of her performance is equally profound. A tough tune to crack, but Lang manages to make it her own.

Jane Siberry's “The Valley,” follows, and if anyone in the mix of songwriters is underrated and less well known than she should be, it's Siberry. The romantic “The Valley” should win her new fans.

Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” was given new life by Jeff Buckley and then injected forever into pop culture thanks to the movie “Shrek.” Lang's edition is not as dramatic as Buckley's, but it's sweeter.

Bruce Cockburn's, C&W/gospel tinged “One Day I Walk,” is the set's most truly hymnal selection. After that comes Ron Sexsmith's McCartney-esque “Fallen,” featuring a tasteful string arrangement by Eumir Deodato.

Okay, enough play-by-play. This is a most nourishing k.d. Lang album, one of her best in some time. It's romantic and thoughtful; intimate and grand at the same time, with smart, straightforward production and arranging to match.

Sonically, a healthy dose of tape hiss early on announces an attractively produced, artist-friendly analog recording, but soon thereafter PTFS (Pro-Tool Fatigue Syndrome) sets in, caused by a cloudy scrim of hash you'll have to listen around or it will drive you nuts. If this recording hasn't been Pro-Tooled I'll eat a G5. Unfortunately, it shows up the worst on Lang's vocals, and there's an almost distorted quality to some of the dynamic peaks, but overall, and compared to much contemporary recorded fare, it's very good.

I've been assembling my own k.d. lang concept album: it's And Then Along Comes k.d.: k.d. lang sings The Association. Go ahead, laugh! But I think k.d. singing "Along Comes Mary," "Message of Our Love," and another 10 or so Association songs would make a great package—as good as this one, I reckon, and that's pretty good.

sophia123's picture

Canada has some good singer and songwriters. One example is Celine Dion. Now, that is a good example right? - Mallory Fleming