k.d. lang Biography

Kathryn Dawn Lang, 2 November 1961, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She prefers the lower case appearance of her name because ‘it’s generic and unlike Cherry Bomb, it’s a name, not a sexuality’. This farmer’s daughter from Consort had become a skilled pianist and guitarist by adolescence and, on leaving school, scratched a living in the performing arts, classical and avant garde music, before choosing to sing country - a genre that she had once despised as the corniest in pop. She forsook much of its rhinestoned tackiness for a leaner, more abandoned approach on her 1984 independent debut, A Truly Western Experience. By now lang was known for her slightly skewered sensibility and a tough backing combo, originally comprising Gordon Matthews (guitar), Ben Mink (violin/mandolin), Mike Creber (piano), John Dymond (bass) and Michel Pouliot (drums). She named them the Reclines - a genuflexion towards Patsy Cline.

Overseen by Dave Edmunds, her major label debut Angel With A Lariat was favoured by influential rock journals such as Rolling Stone (who voted lang Female Vocalist of the Year), but many country radio stations refused to play it, prejudiced as they were by lang’s spiky haircut, vegetarian stance and ambiguous sexuality (she would only go public as a lesbian in a June 1992 interview with The Advocate magazine). Nevertheless, lang charted via ‘Crying’, a Grammy Award-winning duet with Roy Orbison for 1987’s Hiding Out comedy movie soundtrack. The following year, she gained a breakthrough with the lush Shadowland, which was rendered agreeable to country consumers through a sympathetic Nashville production by Owen Bradley and the presence of the Jordanaires, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells. Tracks such as the tear-jerking ‘I Wish I Didn’t Love You So’ and Chris Isaak’s ‘Western Stars’ exemplified what lang described as ‘torch and twang’ - an expression incorporated into the title of her next collection. Mostly self-composed with Mink, it set the seal on the grudging acceptance of her by bigots and, more to the point, confirmed her as a behemoth of country’s New Tradition. lang was subsequently awarded Best Country Vocal Performance for Absolute Torch And Twang at the 1990 Grammy Awards.

In 1992, lang became newsworthy and featured in dozens of magazines in Europe and the USA, who finally picked up on her considerable talent when the acclaimed Ingénue (credited, like Shadowland, to lang alone) was released. This excellent release was, however, far removed from traditional country or new country; it was a sensual and deep collection that enjoyed great crossover success on both sides of the Atlantic, and even generated a Grammy Award-winning crossover hit single, ‘Constant Craving’. The same year showed lang to possess a promising acting ability with the general release of her movie debut in the low budget Salmonberries. In 1993, she provided the soundtrack to Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.

Since Ingénue, lang’s commercial profile has waned, although she has continued to produce quality albums. The 1997 covers album Drag included a highly original interpretation of Steve Miller’s ‘The Joker’. 2000’s Invincible Summer was a much better album and contained some of her most interesting compositions since Ingénue, including the sublime opening track ‘The Consequences Of Falling’. Those who felt she had passed her peak received a sharp awakening. The singer then enjoyed a notable commercial success with an album of duets with veteran crooner Tony Bennett. The album also won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

Lang’s debut for the Nonesuch label, Hymns From The 49th Parallel (2004), featured cover versions of material by Canadian artists including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Further collaborations with Madeleine Peyroux and Nellie McKay preceded the release of Lang’s first collection of original material in eight years, Watershed. Released at the start of 2008, the album served as a timely reminder that not only is Lang a great singer, but she is also a songwriter of note.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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