Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (Sire/Warner)
k.d. lang

By Bob Bahr

K.d. lang's voice is so beautiful, I'd play an album of her singing from my high school Chemistry textbook ("Ooh, did you hear the way she phrased 'the electron configuration of sulfur'?"). So Even Cowgirls Get the Blues already had a hefty head start on my heart even before the plastic was removed from the disc. And it didn't disappoint, even after 20 or 25 spins on the stereo.

Lang's unique musical perspective is pungent and lively; when people try to hang a label on what she does, they fail miserably. A jazz ballad meets twangy country & western in the comfy confines of mainstream pop music? Patsy Cline meets Judy Garland at an Ann Murray tribute concert to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys?

This uncharted musical ground is rendered wholly hospitable by lang's voice. For the soundtrack to the movie adaption of Tom Robbins' novel "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," lang and musical partner Ben Mink have composed and performed music that satisfies all by itself —and stokes the curiosity of the listener. What in the world happens in the film during the odd, bouncy "Kundalini Yoga Waltz"? Does the movie climax with a triumphant horse ride with "Cowgirl Pride" blaring in the background? Is the lead character in the movie as completely seduced as I am when lang sings "Hush Sweet Lover"?

So many questions. While this disc seems slight due to its reasonable 40-minute length and the split between instrumentals and full songs, it succeeds in provoking thought. You might be thinking of Sly Stone during the bass line that k.d. uses in the polished funk of "Just Keep Me Moving." You might ponder, "Who is that playing the piano so sweetly on 'Myth'?" (The answer is Teddy Borowiecki.)

Some songs aren't so mysterious. "Hush Sweet Lover" is a torch song, plain and simple. "In Perfect Dreams" finds lang walking in Patsy Cline's shoes again. The instrumental "Overture" is a sweet meditation on guitars and strings. "Curious Soul Astray" eases in with a possibly autobiographical look at sexual discovery. Nothing overwhelms, but everything pleases, and that's pretty good for a record that is obviously a chance for k.d. to stretch artistically.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is not a blockbuster album. Compared to lang's Ingenue, it's a mere toss-off.

But Ben Mink's guitar playing is very tasty, and this project is ideal for the musical duo. It lets lang and Mink dip into kitsch without getting stained. It's an homage to true country & western without sounding dated. Anyway, who else would you call to compose the music for a story about a bisexual cowgirl with over-sized thumbs? As the "digitally gifted" Sissy Hankshaw might say, "Two BIG thumbs up."

I agree.