There is something about a singer, female vocalists to be precise, that have always touched and influenced me in my life. Maybe it was the fact that I was never really popular in the dating scene, and the female voice I heard in song, in my mind, was the closest I would hear to the musings of love in my neglected ears. Singers like Billie Holliday, Patti Smith, Tori Amos, Margo Timmins, P.J. Harvey and Marianne Faithfull, with their sultry croons, would relieve the pain in my naïve heart. It was in my many times of need throughout my young life that when I needed some healing, with a press of a button, a female chanteuse would appear in my headphones to sing my worries away.
I know I am not alone when I am thankful for singers like k.d. lang. Vocalists who share the gift of mending with their soulful voices appear from afar when we need them most. k.d. lang has been lighting our hearts with her timeless voice since the mid-eighties. lang grew up in Edmonton, Canada, idolizing famed country singer Patsy Cline. After a debut album steeped in Nashville tradition k.d. found salvation in a breakthrough hit—a duet in with the late great Roy Orbison on “Crying.” That version of “Crying” was one of those songs that I would play after another misstep in dance of love. Whenever I failed in romance after falling for someone, I would play “Crying.” Hearing k.d. Lang `s voice, so pure and strong, duet with Roy Oribson gave me faith in love. No matter how down and out I felt, “Crying” would give me hope.
Soon after, lang moved up into the realm of the sultriest torch singers. It wasn’t until 1992 that k.d. found international success with the sensational Ingénue. Led by the worldwide smash “Constant Craving” and top ten salsa tinged single “Miss Chatelaine,” lang was flying high. Although she would never again reach the heights of Ingénue, that success opened up doors for her artistically. She appeared on MTV Unplugged to perform her hits, including one of my favorites, the rarely heard treasure “Barefoot.” She also was spotted duetting with Tony Bennett on his very own comeback Unlpugged special. This led to further successful collaboration album What a Wonderful World in 2002.
Throughout, k.d. has never wavered in recording a plethora of critically acclaimed albums and touring sold out shows across the globe. She continued recording some of my favorite songs, including late night sultry ballad “You’re Okay,” from the underrated All You Can Eat. I can’t forget Lang’s lush cover of Jane Siberry’s “Haint it Funny” on 1997’s smoke themed classic Drag, also featured in Pedro Almodavor’s Talk to Her. Finally off of her 2001 Live from Request special is my favorite—her short but sweet cover of “Fever.” I can’t forget her perfect rendition of The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers/The End” on the soundtrack to Happy Feet. The best thing about this movie is this rarely heard number, a perfect tribute to the Fab Four with the grace and honesty as only k.d. can deliver.
What do all of those songs I mentioned above have in common? They all highlight the unique vocal stylings of one k.d. lang. Her voice is the focal point on all of those songs, from her aching wail on “Barefoot” to the low key sultry vocal style of “Hain’t it Funny.” The music accompanies her voice without overshadowing it. There is nothing worse than session musicians washing out the beautiful voice in my favorite modern day torch song singer. I have said this over and over again—enough with the multi-track productions, I am still waiting for the stripped down album where k.d.’s voice reigns supreme.
This brings us to Watershed. Is this the album for which I have been asking for years now? Not exactly, but with lang producing she makes sure that her vocals are the shining power source on these superb songs, her best and most complete album since Ingénue. From the opening notes and the lyrics “She arrives like autumn in a rainstorm,” The voice that I have adored for so many years arrives from beyond to light the way. There’s a country vibe, with the steel guitar and lush orchestration in the background, but k.d.’s voice of hope and reason lifts us in the blooming opening number “I Dream of Spring.”
What a beginning! The dreamlike wonder of “Je Fais La Planche” follows with the “buoyancy of belief.” There is something that I notice about k.d.’s songwriting immediately in Watershed. Unlike some torch song vocalists, lang writes most of her songs, and there’s a sense of optimism throughout. Even if there are images of blue, jealousy, fear and pain just about all the songs end in a positive light. “Coming Home” starts off with clever, bouncy strings as k.d. sings “oh sweet sorrow/ let’s write the book tomorrow.” From the start she’s taking the words of a sad song, and in the spirit of Paul McCartney, she’s instantly making it better. k.d. never languishes in pools of melancholy, she splashes over them; the hurt might get her wet but she knows that they are just stains that will dry. k.d. doesn’t let the anguish inside of her songs weigh her down. So you, as a listener, follow her lead home.
Just in time for the most romantic day of the year is “Once in a While,” the perfect ode to the one in your heart. “I’ll drive you crazy, baby/ once in a while.” I love the fact that k.d. sings about the imperfections of love. Most of us enter romance with unbreakable goggles but “Once in a While” helps us to realize that there will be times that our loved ones will drive us a little mad. It’s natural, its human nature and all the part of being in love. k.d. follows this theme of realistic love on “Thread,” one of the many highlights of Watershed. “Thread” is one of the few numbers that starts off with a stripped acoustic guitar and follows with a flourishing orchestra strings that flow in and out of the mix without overpowering k.d.’s magnificent voice.
k.d. must have been listening to Mezzanine, because “Close Your Eyes” sounds very Massive Attack-esque. I love the slight trip hop-esque vibe that starts at the beginning. It’s not as dark as Massive Attack, for this is a k.d. lang song, but “Close Your Eyes” is seductive number with a beating bassline that would impress Robert Del Naja and Daddy G.
Listen for the loungey title track and the stand-up bass flavored ode to everyone’s favorite day of the week on “Sunday.” Watershed ends with a stripped down number, “Jealous Dog.” Similar to Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog,” but without the heavy themes of death, k.d. sings about searching for faith through understanding. With just a banjo and a piano as her guide, k.d. lang leaves us looking for meaning through eyes of a jealous dog.
What a way to end this beautiful and moving album. Watershed is something that I myself have been looking to find. You see, I have been in mourning. With the passing of my late Abuelito I went searching for some peace and comfort in a singer. I went through my collection and nothing could cure the pain for the loss I was feeling inside. Last night I discovered the calming beauty of Watershed, which cured my sadness in the voice of one k.d. Lang.
Lyle Lovett – Smile
Suzanne Vega – Beauty & Crime
Sinead O’Connor – Faith and Courage