July 29, 2004

Review: kd lang's "Hymns Of The 49th Parallel"

kd lang's Hymn of The 49th Parallel is her best record since Ingenue. It's a covers album of Canadian songwriters. When you find a singer as good as kd, you need to also find songs worthy of her voice. She does that consistently on this album (samples here).

kd's Joni Mitchell covers here are very faithful. On Jericho, a song about maintaining a relationship, kd sounds as if she'd stepped into the 1970's to use Joni's arranger. This is a good choice, because it has perfect lyrics, but not everyone knows the song because it was on Joni's obscure Don Juan... album. My favorite bit:

Let these walls come tumbling down now
Let them fall right on the ground
Let all these dogs go running free
The wild and the gentle dogs
Kenneled in me

The revelations for me are the lesser known songs, such as both Jane Siberry compositions, in particular The Valley - she nails the little vocal yodel ("you will wa-a-a-alk") of the chorus perfectly! I used to buy Jane's CDs and then...not. This makes me miss her. I knew both of the Siberry songs on this record, but both seem much better, clearer to me when kd does them. It's true that kd emphasizes the pop in folk/pop, but on Jane's record The Valley is a bit meandering and here it is concise. The hook is elegant because it's used so sparingly in both versions.

Likewise, Siberry's Love Is Everything is a majestic breakup song - I don't quite like the way kd changes the words in the bridge (see lyric booklet and compare), but her voice was made to belt this song.

My favorites on this record remain the Neil Young songs, like the elegant, strummy new version of Helpless. If I was kd's agent, I would get her into the studio to record a new one each week.

A very moving album - should be in my top ten of the year.

Link: kd's new website

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