Sing It Loud

k.d. lang / The Siss Boom Bang

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Sing It Loud Review

by Mark Deming

k.d. lang turned her back on the country-influenced music that first earned her fame with 1992's Ingénue, and while she's been making consistently fine albums since then, lang's career has often seemed either eclectic or rudderless, depending on how you wish to look at it; she's made a series of albums that have jumped from one stylistic vantage point to another, never settling in one place for long, and while they all feature her genuinely remarkable skills as a vocalist and often impressive songwriting, one rarely gets a sense of stylistic growth from her work since Ingénue, if only because she seems to be starting from scratch each time out, without building on what she's done before. So 2011's Sing It Loud suggests lang is moving onto a new path that she plans to follow for a while; it features her working with a self-contained band, the Siss Boom Bang, for the first time since she dissolved her old combo the Reclines, and lang wrote or co-wrote all the songs (except for a cover of Talking Heads' "Heaven"), as well as co-producing the set with Joe Pisapia (formerly of Guster, who also leads the Siss Boom Bang). Since the album was recorded in Nashville and the band is heavy on guitars, and even features banjo and pedal steel, some have suggested Sing It Loud represent lang's belated return to country music; but if fact, it sounds more like the arty alt-country album she managed not to make in the '90s. This album is heavy with deep, mysterious melodic structures and arrangements that use country elements as signifiers, but more eagerly embrace a balance of traditionalism and joyful chaos as off-kilter noises and deep, echoing space punctuate the songs, with the results resembling nothing so much as Jay Farrar's post-Son Volt solo work. While the material suggests these similarities come from coincidence rather than design, lang and her new band do beat Farrar handily at this game; if the songs aren't as immediately memorable as her old country-style numbers, "Sugar Buzz," "The Water's Edge," and "Sorrow Evermore" are direct and purposeful in a way lang's music hasn't been in quite some time, and the music pushes her vocals in a direction that's fresh while still keeping one toe in the familiar territory she can draw on. Folks who were hoping Sing It Loud would be k.d. lang's return to the approach of Absolute Torch & Twang are going to be left wanting again, but if you've been eager to see her clear out a stylistic direction that's her own and make something of it, this album feels like a strong step in a bold, satisfying new direction.

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