Whether it’s because they live so close to such an overbearing superpower or just because it’s so cold up north, Canadians have a reputation for maudlin song. Kd lang has always slotted into that list -“ along with Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
After a quiet rest, lang has released Hymns Of The 49th Parallel. On Hymns, she covers Young, Cohen and Mitchell, as well as Jane Siberry, Ron Sexsmith and Bruce Cockburn. It’s a quiet kind of album, almost fading into the background in places. It’s not Drag, there are no traces of lang as swaggering butch, or as Tom Jones in a slightly higher register.
In her production notes, she calls the songs part of [her] cultural fabric, her Canadian soundtrack.
They have nurtured my musical DNA, she says. To recognise and honour the profound impact they have had on me, my approach to interpreting these songs is to sing them as honestly, as purely, and as true to how I heard them as possible, with respect and reverence for the songs and for the songwriters, as hymns -¦ simply songs of praise.
The songs are uniformly breathy and beautiful. Neil Young’s Helpless is a stand-out, and lang holds her own on yet another cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. She also makes Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You sound like it’s always been hers. Perhaps proving her own worth in the line-up, lang also covers one of her own tracks, Simple, from 2000’s Invincible Summer.
It’s not the first time lang has put her own twist on other people’s songs. Although she’s probably most famous for 1992’s self-penned Ing?e (which contained her biggest hit Constant Craving), lang has become a mistress of reinterpretation, of artists from Louis Armstrong to the Steve Miller Band. She started out as a singer of country classics in the late 1980s, reinvented herself as an out lesbian crooner, became a cross-dressed Las Vegas nightclub tribute singer and then returned to writing for 2000’s Invincible Summer.
Lang is currently performing a North American concert tour accompanied by a symphony orchestra.
Hymns Of The 49th Parallel is out this week on Nonesuch Records.