Absolute Torch and Twang' the third major-label LP by Canadian chanteuse K.D. Lang and the second with her band the Reclines splits the difference between the unbridled high spirits and shit-kicking backbeat of Angel With a Lariat and the more studied, Patsy Cline-influenced studioscapes crafted by legendary country producer Owen Bradley on Shadowland. The result is a record that's thoughtful and mature.
There are more obvious records Lang could have made, ones designed to make her a country queen. Instead, she opted for songs that challenge her abilities and make a case for artistic vision.
Easily one of rock, pop or country's most accomplished vocalists, Lang has grown more subtle. On "Pullin' Back the Reins," she drapes her smoky alto over the lyrics with a sensuousness that throbs. There's nothing overt about her performance, yet it's one of the most sultry moments on vinyl this year.
Only "Big Boned Gal," with a rubberball bass line, the pitter-patter percussion of "Luck in My Eyes" and the low-impact Western swing of "Big Big Love" move Torch and Twang onto the dance floor; the Reclines spend most of their time inhabiting languid, aching moments. Much of the material is painful, but it's a good, often cathartic hurt that Lang delivers.
In some ways, this is The Many Moods of K.D. Lang. She sings a hushed gospel number ("Nowhere to Stand"), a near flamenco ("Trail of Broken Hearts," with its nylon-string guitar) and a big ballad of heartbreak ("Three Days"). Lang's primary interest is in capturing the essence of emotion and staying just this side of understatement.
With the Reclines at her side, Lang is in her element. The transistor twang of guitar on "Didn't I" and the sawing fiddles throughout make this an authentic barn dance the postmoderns can relate to and that's no small feat.
This album isn't gonna win her any points with the Nashville Network or country-radio programmers, but it shows what country music, when intelligently done, can be: high-plains music for the thinking man and woman. (RS 556-557)
(Posted: Jul 13, 1989)
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