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k.d. lang 

Hymns of the 49th Parallel (Nonesuch)

K.d. lang's first album for the Warner Bros. boutique label Nonesuch is high-concept, indeed. It celebrates songwriters from north of the border, lang's soul- and countrymates. While it's often lovely and it sounds like money, it's also a bit precious.

Hymns treads the line between the sensual and the somnolent, the seductive and the soporific. Without question, the songs are beautiful: Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" and "Helpless" benefit from lushly voiced arrangements, and the churchy treatment of "Bird on a Wire" gives Leonard Cohen's lugubrious ballad a new, sanctified dimension. Lang deploys her expressive contralto in straightforward fashion; there are more dynamics than nuance in her voice, however.

You may gather that this is an album of noble intentions, and it certainly showcases deserving artists. But after a while, the tunes blend into one another, their individuality blunted by a sameness of tempo and tone. Beautifully if too straightforwardly sung, so thoughtfully conceived that it's overwrought, Hymns isn't vital enough to transcend showcase status. Its seriousness overwhelms its perfume.

More by Carlo Wolff


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