It’s funny, I’m not interested in a bio of the third in my trio of my “girl singers,” k.d. lang. Not interested in writing an overview, not interested in reading one. Everything I want or need to know about her is in her music, and what it makes me feel.
I tend to prefer early k.d., that era when she was still with the Reclines, her Patsy Cline tribute band (with her then-collaborator, the very talented Ben Mink) through her first couple of solo albums. I like much of her more recent stuff, but it’s her older material that makes my heart sing.
She made a number of albums before her career really took off. And take off it did, in a single moment: when she appeared on The Tonight Show, back before Jay Leno’s hair was completely gray, singing “Crying” with Roy Orbison. Of course this became one of her biggest singles as well. I remember that when Orbison died, she said she felt his spirit enter her.
I first heard her music, appropriately enough, at the home of a lesbian couple who were close friends of mine. The album was 1989’s Absolute Torch and Twang.
So many great songs on that album. “Three Days.” “Didn’t I.” “Big Big Love.” And one that always makes me laugh with joy:
She was a big-boned gal
From southern Alberta—
You just couldn’t call her small!
And you can bet every Saturday night
She’d be headed for the Legion Hall. . . .
You could tell she was ready
By the look in her eye,
As she stepped in through the crowd;
She walked with grace
As she entered the place—
Yeah, the big-boned gal was proud.
Hey, hey, the big-boned gal—
Ain’t no doubt she’s a natural,
Snakin’ and a-snakin’
And a-breakin’ up across the floor!
Hey, hey, the big boned gal—
Ain’t no doubt she’s a natural,
Reelin’ and a-rockin’,
And she’s yelling out for more.
But the song on that album that that really knocked my socks off was “Trail of Broken Hearts.” It has become one of my favorite songs of all time:
There was something inexpressibly lonely and achingly beautiful about both her voice and her arrangements. The twang of the Western guitar evoked the same feelings in me that “Calling You” from Bagdad Café did. I feel the wide-open spaces, the yearning for connection, the hope of the next mountain range, the next vista.
Another song from that album, “Pullin’ Back the Reins,” is just as wonderful.
i know your soul is wild and free
like this galloping
tossed by instinct
and where we land
is vast and certain of all that’s planned
pullin back the reins
trying to remain
tall in the saddle
when all that we had
well ran away
with a will of its own
On her next album, Ingénue, was a marvelous single, “Constant Craving.” It won lang the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin
Has always been
One more, if you’ll indulge me. In 2001 lang recorded “Barefoot,” and I’ve just learned that she wrote it with Bob Telson, who wrote the aforementioned “Calling You.” As composer and writer Roger Bourland has pointed out, this is “one of k.d.’s lesser-known masterpieces. The song deserves a better orchestration, but her voice takes you places that make you forget everything. . . . Be sure to wait for the howl two-thirds of the way through. Thrilling.”