k.d. lang: Shadowland

k.d. lang: Shadowland is released.
# allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)

Shadowland is the second album by k.d. lang, released in April, 1988. The album included her collaboration with Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Brenda Lee on “Honky Tonk Angels’ Medley” and was produced by Owen Bradley, who produced Patsy Cline’s best-known work.

Switching up after her more uptempo debut Angel With a Lariat, Lang left her back-up band The Reclines at home for Shadowland, and instead went into the studio with session vets that included the Jordanaires, Buddy Emmons and Hargus “Pig” Robbins. Her use of the Nashville String Machine put a new spin on songs such as “Black Coffee” and the title track.

Lang’s rich timbre of voice is coupled with extraordinary range. She turns Chris Isaak’s “Western Stars” and Ray Price’s “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” into cowboy ballads worthy of Marty Robbins, puts a Minnie Pearlish spin on “(Waltz Me) Once Again Around The Dance Floor” and makes Roger Miller’s “Lock, Stock And Teardrops” ooze with pathos. By far the crown jewel of this record is the “Honky Tonk Angels’ Medley” of “In The Evening,” “You Nearly Lose Your Mind” and “Blues Stay Away From Me” wherein Lang matches up well with legendary honky-tonk angels Kitty Wells, Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn.

What a difference the right collaborator makes: Shadowland is much more vivid and loose-limbed than Angel with a Lariat, the earlier album by the Canadian country siren K.D. Lang. Listening to the new album, it’s easy to dismiss the Dave Edmunds-produced Angel with a Lariat, because Edmunds’s hyperactive roots arrangements didn’t suit Lang nearly as well as Owen Bradley’s more subdued, stately settings on Shadowland. Lang may be pushing at the limits of contemporary country with her own band and her own material, but the ease and clarity with which she drives the more traditional vehicles on Shadowland point to her greatest strengths as an interpreter.

Shadowland, then, is something of a side project for Lang, the fulfillment of a long-held dream before she returns to her usual job. An avowed Patsy Cline superfan (after all, she did name her regular band the Reclines), Lang sounds thrilled to be working with Bradley, Cline’s most notable Nashville patron. But Lang isn’t intimidated by the challenge: she eschews reverent caution and sets off explosions on almost every song, especially late-night torch cries like “Busy Being Blue.” Bradley, too, seems invigorated by the pairing. He sets Lang’s voice against arrangements that sound merely comfortable on the surface but that are really as angular and wary as Lang’s best vocal performances.

The last track on Shadowland, a medley of country standards, is the most telling, with Lang receiving vocal assists from such fellow Bradley protégées as Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells. Lang holds her own just fine against these honky-tonk angels, with a sly nod to her role model, Cline, and an eye on her own bright future. On Shadowland, Lang shows that she can become a great Patsy Cline if she wants to, something her fiery live performances always suggested. Now let’s see her return to the Reclines, pick up where they left off and become a great K.D. Lang. (RS 528)
~ JIMMY GUTERMAN (June 16, 1988)

Side one
“Western Stars” (Chris Isaak) – 3:12
“Lock, Stock and Teardrops” (Roger Miller) – 3:28
“Sugar Moon” (Cindy Walker, Bob Wills) – 2:26
“I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” (Frank Loesser) – 3:07
“(Waltz Me) Once Again Around the Dance Floor” (Don Goodman, Sara Johns, Jack Rowland) – 2:35
“Black Coffee” (Sonny Burke, Paul Francis Webster) – 3:17

Side two
“Shadowland” (Dick Hyman, Charles Tobias) – 2:28
“Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (Slim Willet) – 2:20
“Tears Don’t Care Who Cries Them” (Fred Tobias, Charles Tobias) – 3:03
“I’m Down to My Last Cigarette” (Harlan Howard, Billy Walker) – 2:46
“Busy Being Blue” (Stewart MacDougall) – 3:40
“Honky Tonk Angels’ Medley” – 2:55
     “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)” (Leroy Carr, Don Raye)
     “You Nearly Lose Your Mind” (Ernest Tubb)
     “Blues Stay Away from Me” (Alton Delmore, Rabon Delmore, Wayne Raney, Henry Glover)


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