When kd lang got the idea to put together a super-group in the mode of The Traveling Wilburys, two names came immediately to mind. Neko Case and Laura Veirs, like lang, are independently minded artist who break convention in order to follow their muse. The collaboration may have presented challenges but it also created opportunity none of the three would have experienced on their own. Sharing songwriting duties, crafting harmonies, and choosing production styles showcases each artist in a new light. Overseeing the project is Veirs’ husband, producer Tucker Martine.
The album finds the trio adapting their distinct styles to fit the vision of the album. Case has created beautifully haunted ethereal songs that surprise with sharp edges. Veirs is a soulful writer whose themes encompass family life and bucolic wonder. lang is the sentimentalist who pulls emotional material from the heart. Somehow they manage to merge these divergent perspectives into fourteen captivating songs.
Each takes turns as the lead singer and it’s apparent that decision is based on the main songwriter. lang’s contributions are love ballads that simmer at the core but float on lilting melodies. Case’s songs, no matter how lovely the melody, emanate uneasy emotions that spike up in minor chord contrast to the main melody. Veirs brings a pop sensibility to the album’s single “Best Kept Secret.” She brings a sense of optimism to even her darker tunes like “Song for Judee” which honors the late singer/songwriter Judee Sill.
Tucker Martine brings equanimity to the album, allowing each artist the chance to exhibit her own arranging proclivities. Here and there you’ll hear a sound that is distinctly lang, Case, or Veirs. Still there are ways in which each singer is heard anew. In her own recordings Case’s voice is heavily reverbed and embedded into her production. Here it’s set free and it’s a delight to hear her crisp vocals so unfettered. Veirs is a remarkable songwriter who will surely gain new fans thanks to this collaboration. As a vocalist she is limited but she’s learned how to work within her range. lang, arguably the best vocalist of the trio, is surprisingly generous in allowing Case and Veirs to shine. When she takes her place in the spotlight her voice shimmers and shines, but her backing vocals are so subtle in the mix it’s near impossible to pick her out in the gorgeous braided harmonies.
Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)