A Vivascene Music Review by Brian Miller
Fronting a country band for the first time in years, k.d. lang returns to her roots and with Sing It Loud makes her finest album in years. Her fabulous soaring voice has done magnificent things to this new material, and her new collaboration with Joe Pisapia (formerly of Guster) sounds less contrived and diva-like than most of her recent work. Not that she didn’t do heavenly things with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and with her mostly overlooked collection of Canadian classics entitled Hymns of the 49th Parallel, in which she recorded the definitive version of Neil Young’s Helpless. But for this listener she reached a pinnacle of country singing in 1989’s Absolute Torch and Twang that has never been equalled in her work or in the work of any other country singer excepting Emmylou Harris.
That’s the problem when you possess an instrument as rare and as fine as the voice of k.d. lang – everything she sings has a beauty and passion all its own, so of course she has been tempted into singing all sorts of material, some of it glorious such as her duet of Crying with Roy Orbison, some of it questionable such as her forays into pop and the rather special world of Tony Bennett.
Now she’s back to basics and it’s marvellous. She and the Siss Boom Bang-comprising Joe Pisapia (a multi-instrumentalist who co-produced the album with lang and serves as musical director), Daniel Clarke (keyboards), Fred Eltringham (drums/percussion), Joshua Grange (baritone guitar, dobro), and Lex Price (bass)-recorded this album at Pisapia’s Middletree Studios in Nashville
The opening number I Confess is a torch ballad that approaches the song-building intensity of Roy Orbison. Perfect World is a bluesy number that features the no less than perfect lyrics …”the fire from your tongue is burning uncontrollably, I’m only human after all”. But in addition to I Confess the standout track on the album is her interpretation of Talking Heads’ Heaven, in which she coaxes and reveals all the ironies of this dream-filled lyric:
When this kiss is over it will start again.
It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same.
It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all
could be so exciting, could be so much fun.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”
The instrumentation throughout is standard country fare as might be expected from a Nashville production such as this: acoustic guitar, steel guitar and banjo, but what k.d. brings is her passion and her inimitable phrasing: no one caresses a lyric like she does.
Now when is k.d. lang going to make an album of standards by incredible songwriters like Don Gibson, The Louvin Brothers, Chris Isaak, and that infallible trio from Austin: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock? She would kill those songs. Just kill them…
That said, Sing It Loud is a splendid return to form.
Watch: Interview with k.d. lang re the making of Sing It Loud
Watch: I Confess