Sound Check: February 2008

News and reviews of queer women in music.

Recently, veteran lesbian performers k.d. lang
and Patty Larkin released albums a week apart. It was Larkin’s first release
since 2003; lang’s first original solo LP in eight years (her 2004 album, hymns of the 49th parallel, was
comprised of covers).


Larkin has been an East Coast hit, and on her new album, Watch the Sky, she takes her rightful liberties to fully control the songwriting,
producing and engineering of the album. Despite using unconventional
instruments like the bouzouki (a Greek string instrument) and a "baribow"
(an electric baritone guitar played with a violin bow), Watch the Sky isn’t all that cohesive. Most of it sounds sullen and
lonely, as Larkin attempts to be reflective through tired themes of nature ("We
were walking in the park" on the light-hearted "Beautiful," "Dear
heart beat for me, dear heart, beneath the shaded tree" on "Dear
Heart," etc.).

Perhaps Watch the Sky is
disappointing because it lacks the true folk soul that made Larkin so
distinguishable in the first place. In the 1990s, she stood out in the music
industry because she was a fantastic musician who knew how to play her guitar
with heart, but on her newest effort, she might have spread herself too thin by
fiddling with the rest of the production.


While Patty Larkin may be a new name in your lesbian
musician catalog, k.d. lang is surely not, and yet it’s completely possible you’ve
never heard her sing a note. She is somewhat synonymous with lesbian music, even
though her sound is much different than others who are also lumped into the
same overly broad category (see: Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco). Even if you only
know lang from her lesbian chic Vanity
Fair
cover with Cindy Crawford from the ’90s, now is the perfect time to
discover the country-tinged soul of her music.

Her latest album, Watershed,
is a modern-day creation of Patsy Cline meets Ella Fitzgerald, a culmination of
her career in both the western and jazz genres such as 1989′s Absolute Torch and Twang and 2002′s A Wonderful World with Tony Bennett. Her
range moves easily from the depths of an alto to a pleasant soprano, and her
voice sounds like it was made to accompany the ballads.

Compared to Larkin on Watch
the Sky
, lang sticks with what she’s good at: Her vocals are the focus, and the strings in the background remain in the background. "I will make you happy baby, I will make you smile,"
she sings on "Once in a While," where her Karen Carpenter-esque
singing against a slightly country background almost makes modern country bearable.

Like Larkin, lang also took charge of her album, acting as
producer for the first time, and she’s done well. It might seem passé, but
getting to know k.d. lang is getting to know some great bossa nova pop with an
edge of twang.

Preview “Sunday” from k.d. lang’s new album, Watershed:

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