k.d. lang has the most beautiful Voice in the world. Her incredible Voice, nuanced in tone and bursting with emotion while always being held in perfect moderation and absolute control, provides high warning of her greatness.
That Voice belongs not to her, but to us, because such a gift cannot belong to a single person — a Voice like that is property of the universal human condition and while k.d. lang may be the vessel of That Voice, the sound produced by the resonance of that vessel is a vibration only the Gods can create in their power to shake the land we inhabit.
If you haven’t taken an opportunity to invest in the beautiful experience of k.d lang — and I mean really listening to her for tone and timber and not just having a song play in the background — I will tell you now why you should sit down with her in your headphones as soon as possible.
Last year k.d. lang released an album unlike no other called Hymns of the 49th Parallel and right there with the title of that album you can feel her greatness. She didn’t choose to write “Songs” of the 49th Parallel — she said “Hymns” — and that precision in word choice is an important and substantial difference between two wildly divergent concepts on an aesthetic level. All Hymns are songs but not all songs are Hymns. Next, she did not write “from” the 49th Parallel she chose “of” the 49th Parallel.
That careful carving of a word is another small, but incredibly significant word choice. The Hymns she sings are not “from” the land they are “of” the land — part of the land — nay, the very land itself. Hymns of the 49th Parallel is a tribute album to her fellow Canadian songwriters. She exquisitely covers two Neil Young songs on the album: Helpless and After the Gold Rush and once you hear k.d. lang’s cover of those masterpieces you will never need to hear them any other way again.
The album is “unplugged.” You have drums, a few strings, a piano and That Voice. Her Voice stretches with yearning and tenses with incredibly taught emotion that calls Helpless out in the dark.
Her Voice is eerie and sad and slightly tempting joy. Her pitch is perfect. Her heart is pure. We are taken away with her in a tidal wave of regret and frustration. We are helpless with her and we enjoy every instant of our shared dismay. k.d. lang makes After the Gold Rush another immediate classic.
While After the Gold Rush is the first cut on the album you need to hear Helpless first because that cut influences the dead emotion that rips away the ashes of the human spirit in After the Gold Rush.
You are taken on a time-bending rip of history in After the Gold Rush and you spin around the paths of active imagining and of existential wishing in four minutes. Only k.d. lang can help navigate us through the perilous deep water of the consequence of human frailty tempting more beyond the edge.
Her magnificent and haunting Voice provides a steady rudder for navigation. If your previous exposure to k.d. lang has been only through her politics or her personal life or through songs like Constant Craving and Big Boned Gal — you need to remove those experiences from your catalog of her talent and instead focus your entire attention on Hymns of the 49th Parallel because it is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before or will ever have the joy of hearing again.