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Hymns of the 49th Parallel

In which kd lang simultaneously releases her first album for Warner’s hip new music imprint, Nonesuch, and confirms that she’s best when interpreting other people’s songs rather than writing her own ones. This is something we’ve known for a while: compare lang’s 2002 A Wonderful World, made with Tony Bennett, with her previous solo, Invincible Summer. The latter wasn’t bad, but it didn’t light up in the same way that the Bennett smooch-fest did. So the long-awaited Hymns of the 49th Parallel – very much lang’s Canadian songbook – is a sign of an impressive maturity. Wrapping her honeyed vocals around the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, this is interpretative work at its best. ‘After the Gold Rush’, Young’s lament for the dead dreams of the 1960s – lang slows it down and darkens it with cellos – or Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ are not songs to be tackled lightly. Lang brings both sensitivity and gravitas to them. There are a couple of easy rides on Hymns – one of them, ‘Simple’, is culled from Invincible Summer. Lang twists new meaning into Mitchell’s supremely difficult ‘Case of You’ and seizes the opportunity to open up that huge voice on two Jane Siberry numbers. Instrumentation is unfussy, and with long-term guitarist and co-producer Ben Mink still in control, lang’s songs of praise ring true.