A good album to put on to cheer up the end of winter.
Tim Nelson 2008-01-31
It's funny to think that k.d. lang began her career as a country artist. The contradiction of an openly gay, feminist, animal-rights activist singer-songwriter choosing a famously reactionary genre in which to express herself was startling. Yet such contradictions hardly mattered at the time in the face of her fabulous talent, and above all, the sound of her majestic voice. However, lang long ago moved from Patsy Cline-informed torch and twang to a highly original blend of country, blues and jazz. But as she has explored further, the music has often become more muted, more introverted and, at times, a little chilly. Above all, the sense of fun has sometimes been hard to discern amidst the swooning strings and sweeping melodies.
Watershed, her first album of original material since the exceptional pop sheen of 2000's Invincible Summer, does little to dispel this feeling. Encouragingly, I Dream Of Spring opens with a very contemporary African sound. But then both the song and the album seamlessly move into the lush yet plaintive soundscapes she's been ranging across for the past fifteen years. However beautifully crafted and achingly performed this is, it's unlikely to win over many new converts.
A new k.d. lang album is no small thing, however. And on its own terms, Watershed - the title of which perhaps refers as much to the fact that this work is her first self-production as it does any more personal turning point - is an affecting account of endings and the hope for renewal. She may have softened her edges yet the album covers all of her bases from country ballads to dusky jazz and does it with the confidence you'd expect of an artist as comfortable with her own abilities.
Ultimately, at 46 it seems that k.d. lang is both happy and still creative, even if she could do with some nudging out of her comfort zone. In the end, this is a great album to cheer up the end of Winter; as beguiling and seductive as a dream, from which the subtleties and complexities are only slowly revealed.