August 16, 2004 12:00 PM

Hymns of the 49th Parallel


“I drew a map of Canada/Oh Canada,” sings k.d. lang on her gorgeous version of Joni Mitchell’s 1971 gem “A Case of You.” Those words take on even greater significance when the Alberta native tenderly wraps her velvet voice around them on this heartfelt collection of songs composed by such Canadian singer-songwriters as Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Jane Siberry. Thematically, this Canadian song-book offers a refreshing alternative to the countless albums of American standards by everyone from Rod Stewart to 15-year-old Renee Olstead. And lang, who has previously devoted discs to country classics (1988’s Shadowland and 1989’s Absolute Torch and Twang), songs about smoking (1997’s Drag) and Louis Armstrong standards (2002’s A Wonderful World, with Tony Bennett), brings a loving reverence to these Hymns of the 49th Parallel. (The title refers to the border between the United States and the Great White North.) With orchestration as lush as her rich alto, the chanteuse pays homage to Young on the sumptuous opener “After the Gold Rush” and her sweetly aching cover of “Helpless,” while honoring Mitchell again with “Jericho.” Long compared to Patsy Cline, lang remembers her country roots with the fiddle-laced trot of Bruce Cockburn’s “One Day I Walk.” She also performs one number that she cowrote, the lilting love song “Simple.” Listening to lang deliver these tunes is like a master class in pop singing. Her phrasing is impeccable, fluid and nuanced. Check out the way she slides down the notes on Ron Sexsmith’s “Fallen,” creating a sense of surrender. One wonders what lang would have done if she had tackled the work of some other Canadian artists, such as Sarah McLachlan or even Alanis Morissette. But here’s hoping she’ll do just that if and when she makes Hymns of the 49th Parallel, Vol. 2.



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