Photo: James Minchin III
For some strange reason, I can’t recall the exact location where I saw the amazing k.d. lang perform live for the first time. It was for the Absolute Torch & Twang tour either at Kingsbury Hall or Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus on 1/20/1990. While my memory is fuzzy on the exact locale, I’ll never forget how close my seat was to the front of the stage. Like all great performers, lang seemed unfazed by the size of the the auditorium and performed for us like she was playing a Royal Command Performance—except this had an edge of fun to it—and truly gave it her all. Her pure voice—surely one of the best of this or any generations—gave me goosebumps the instant she opened her mouth and cemented my already growing love for her. More than ably backed by The Reclines—her Patsy Cline name-checked backing band—it was a phenomenal night, especially witnessing a true artist in such an intimate venue.
While the styles and genres of her work may have changed from time to time—I really think she could sing anything she wanted and make you believe it—lang really hasn’t strayed far from simply making timeless-sounding music and her latest effort, Sing It Loud, is no exception. For the first time in about 20 years, lang has recorded with a set band of musicians. Headed by Guster’s Joe Pisapia (who also co-produced the album with lang) and recorded at his home studio in Nashville, The Siss Boom Bang also features Daniel Clarke on keyboards, Fred Eltringham on drums and percussion, Joshua Grange on baritone guitar and the dobro, and Lex Price on bass. Many of the album’s eleven tracks were recorded organically and often feature live takes, which lang is more than adept at handling.
There is a wonderful ‘50s-sounding bravado to the album’s first few tracks, especially its stunning first single, “I Confess.” “Life without you only brought me heartache/I’ve had all the lonely I can take,” lang sultrily confesses as an electric guitar is strummed and hypnotic drumming seem to mirror the sound of a heart breaking. There is a retro swagger to “A Sleep With No Dreaming” that only a vocalist as polished as lang could pull off, while lang the crooner ignites the gorgeous choruses of “The Water’s Edge.” “The Perfect Word” is equally haunting and lilting, as though lang is gently getting it all off her chest.
lang is certainly no pushover when it comes to these emotions, especially with that beautiful vibrato of hers working its way up the scale. Her ability to hold back the singing theatrics—a lesson that could be learned by so many of today’s female poseurs—and only let it out at key moments never ceases to amaze. Which is not to say she doesn’t belt it out sometimes—the album is called Sing It Loud after all. Over the years, lang has refined the skill of avoiding overkill as both a singer and a producer. Take the staggering “Sugar Buzz,” which practically drips with heat and passion as her voice builds with nuanced emotion. Then the catchy title track arrives and lang breezily and effortlessly sings the toe-tapping chorus as subtle banjo-picking frames her nicely.
“Inglewood” is simply one of the prettiest songs on this album, and the symmetry between singer and band reaches its zenith on “Habit Of Mind.” “I’ve lost my edge/it’s left the building, like Elvis, I guess,” she intones and then is eventually joined by The Siss Boom Bang’s male harmonizing. lang as an interpreter of others’ music has always been one of her greatest strengths. Here her take on Talking Heads’ Heaven is both playful and ironic. Speaking of covers, the ultimate package for this album features the exclusive CD version (which is available only on her website) that boasts the complete recording sessions, including a take on the Little River Band’s classic “Reminiscing.” The optimistic “Sorrow Nevermore” rounds the proceedings out an a nice high.
There is nothing better than hearing k.d. lang wrap that heavenly voice around brand new material, and the ease of how she works so seamlessly with a great band only makes this fantastic album that much more pleasurable. k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang will perform live at Red Butte Garden on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011, and like all of her previous Utah appearances, it is highly anticipated and likely to sell out.
Sing It Loud was released on standard CD and various digital formats on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 on Nonesuch with the exclusive CD version available only from her website.