It would be an all too easy mistake to peg the music of k.d. lang as just alternative country. After all, being real Canadian cowgirl makes you alternative in music-by-numbers Nashville. Besides, what other openly gay country artist do you know that spells her name in all lower caps? The Alberta singer’s biggest initial influence might have been Patsy Cline, but her musical toolbox is far more expansive than the confines of country music. Her early music blended country, rockabilly and modern rock influences into a seamlessly quirky but often beautiful mix.
I’m not sure where or how I was introduced to lang’s music, but her fourth album Inguene was my starting point. And why not? The song “Constant Craving” had just become a runaway adult contemporary hit that was being played everywhere, especially in paces where it was best to be calm like the dentist or DMV office. The song deftly combined all of her influences in one neatly packaged four-minute sedative. Lang’s voice was the musical equivalent to warm milk, a calming element that recalled AM radio’s heyday in the 1940s. Never boring, just calm and sublime.
Her first album of the ’90s featured a sophisticated jazz cabaret sound. An exotic array of instruments including a santur and mandolin contributed to a timeless sound. 9 of the 10 tracks, nearly all slow to mid-tempo songs, were written by lang and producer Ben Mink. Lang’s influence and popularity extended beyond the traditional country and pop circles to the extent that her hit “Constant Craving” inspired a Rolling Stones song in 1997.
The high production standards of Greg Perry and Ben Mink lead to nominations for best engineered (non classical) album in 1993. Most of the tracks that made up Ingenue were written by lang and Ben Mink. Lang won a Grammy for “the Best Vocal Performance by a Female” in 1993.
Inguene is by far k.d. lang’s most successful album in America, but she was just as popular in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The exposure that lang got with Inguene help boost awareness of a new crop of country artist whose influences were not limited to Nashville. Whatever controversy her sexuality stirred up in Nashville was ignored by the time lang had become the darling of the national awards circuit. She continues to record and has since continued to collect a string of accolades not only for music but her GBLT and animal activism efforts.