by Mark Saleski
I can’t exactly remember either the song or the awards show I saw her perform it on. It had to be either Roy Orbison’s “Crying” or maybe “Constant Craving.” I also want to say that it was on the Grammy awards.
Now that I think about it, I remember running out to buy Absolute Torch and Twang the next day so that drops “Constant Craving” from the running. Anyway, at that point I had read an article or two about k.d. lang, but hadn’t heard a note. There was certainly a buzz going on in the press, and that television performance proved that the buzz was well-founded. This woman could sing!
It’s easy to look at the early history of lang’s career and see it as another case of Nashville not knowing what to do with a major talent, one that didn’t quite fit in. In retrospect, it hardly matters. The transition that saw lang’s work with The Reclines morph into the adult pop of Ingénue serves as a history of her career in microcosm.
To that high lonesome sound of a Roy Orbison and the melodic range of a Patsy Cline (both of whom lang admired greatly), lang added both tremendous power and sensitivity. If an artist as great as Tony Bennett can refer to her as the best singer since Judy Garland, well … you know she’s got something special going on. There’s surely the way I felt when I first heard her.
The weird thing is that Ingénue was the last record of hers that I bought. It might be that was right around the time my JazzSnob™ phase kicked in. Too bad, because Recollection opened my ears to what I’ve been missing.
Drawing from 25 years of music making, the first two discs comprise the best of k.d. lang — 22 songs that include material from Absolute Torch and Twang (“Trail of Broken Hearts”) all the way through “I Dream Of Spring” from 2008′s Watershed. The first disc concentrates on material from lang’s ‘regular’ releases while disc 2 showcases all of the songs she has contributed to other records and film soundtracks. While I was apparently not paying attention, lang has recorded: with Jane Siberry for the film “Until the End of the World,” “Help Me” (A Tribute to Joni Mitchell), “Love For Sale” (The Black Dahlia), and Cole Porter’s “So In Love” for the Red, Hot and Blue compilation.
On the rarities disc, which contains such gems as “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” (from the film “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio”) and a string-drenched take on “Skylark,” the fan is in for a real treat with a suite of live songs recorded at a 2008 appearance on radio station KCRW. Dang, the version of “Smoke Rings” manages to be both romantic and funny. And while the live version of “Wash Me Clean” is just stunning, my ears say that the high point comes early with lang’s interpretation of Neil Young’s “Helpless.” It’s just gorgeous.
Recollection ends with a DVD of videos that go all the way back to Ingénue (including “Constant Craving,” “The Mind of Love,” and the campy “Miss Chatelaine”) and as far forward as 2004′s Hymns of the 49th Parallel, ending with versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Young’s “Helpless,” performed at the 2005 Juno Awards.
There’s a touching moment that comes just after lang has finished “Hallelujah.” She is moved to tears at the magnitude of the crowd’s appreciation. It’s a genuine connection between audience and performer, one that takes me all the way back to when I first heard her sing “Crying.” When an event is so good that you can hardly contain your emotions, you know something special has just happened.