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k.d. lang


k.d. lang  is an artist whose big personality and big image oft precedes even the big voice and big talent. That the pinnacle of her country sound was an homage to Patsy Cline has, in many circles, been mistaken for poking fun and the more lasting impression has been of that big Canadian lesbian who shook up her homeland's beef industry (long before Oprah ever tangled with Texas over mad cow disease) and somehow got on the Opry before going on to become an adult alternative crooner who hit her peak in the early 90s with the cheekily named Ingenue.

It is only fitting that lang herself reframe the picture by assembling--with longtime co-writer/collaborator Ben Mink--her country career retrospective, issued as Reintarnation. If your old copy of Absolute Torch and Twang has been collecting dust somewhere, it's the voice that gets you first: big, powerful, a show-boating peacock of a sound that makes no bones about what it is. It's Performance Art, to use lang's description. Not unlike the Talking Heads or lang's own revered Jonathan Richman, her country career was conceived as a whole package of sound, look, and delivery. It was, as she writes in Reintarnation's liner notes, a "project" with a foreseeable end.

From that perspective, much of the criteria for what's good, for what is of merit musically, is realigned instead, with the idea of lang-the-country-starlet, a concept of intentional design. The over-singing, the campy cornball posturing and the retro chic seem to reside more truthfully alongside Bette Midler than Steve Earle, Lone Justice, and Dwight Yoakam, the 'new country' that posse came to define in the late eighties. So gathered up in twenty cuts which lang and Mink feel best represent the period are the songs that thrill, delight, and amuse.

Along with lang's conceptual reframing comes a little cosmetic re-mixing, removing some of the reverb from the earliest work. Whether this is ultimately to the detriment or benefit of listening enjoyment is up to one's individual discretion. It doesn't seem to be of tantamount importance. The voice comes back at us, big, bold, brash but not quite bawdy on "Big Boned Gal," which was ultimately taken up as a sort of lesbian anthem, and on the swingin' statement song "It's Me," on which lang takes up for herself and her need to stand apart.

Treats perhaps new to listeners include the Bumstead single "Friday Dance Promenade" and the previously unreleased lang/Mink demo "Changed My Mind." A heavy dose of material from Angel With A Lariat,Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, and Absolute Torch and Twang make repossession of these records obsolete for older listeners and unnecessary for new ones.

Perhaps by design, there is but a single cut from the definitive "project" pinnacle, Shadowland, recorded with Patsy Cline producer Owen Bradley. The gloriously romantic and musically lush "Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes" is positively dreamy, inspiration for retrieving the LP from its sleeve and firing up the long dormant turntable. 
• Paige La Grone Babcock

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