k.d. lang's latest fails to elevate itself

Mon Feb 4, 2008 12:08am EST
 
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NEW YORK (Billboard) - "Watershed," k.d. lang's new torch-and-twang exploration, will hover delicately in the background of many a coffee shop, but it does little to elevate itself to a more conscious musical experience. Instigating passionate encounters might have been lang's intent; alas, the record is more befitting an aromatherapy session. While her lyrics are drenched in l'amour, lang's dulcet voice floats like mist. The pure 5 o'clock lounge of "Sunday" is like time travel back to a 1960s bachelor pad, complete with discreet xylophone, padded bass notes and martinis you can nearly taste. "Flame of the Uninspired" draws a shade over the album's subtle glow; beyond that, "Watershed" boasts delicate country traveling songs and oh-so-hushed romantic standards.

ARTIST: KENNY G

ALBUM: RHYTHM AND ROMANCE (Starbucks)

Kenny G's got a love jones going. On his Starbucks debut, the saxophonist cooks up a set of samba, bossa nova and salsa tunes that range from a fluid version of the staple "Besame Mucho" to eight originals co-written with co-producer Walter Afanasieff. Focusing on one genre works to G's advantage; backed by a stellar cast of musicians that includes bassist Nathan East and Weather Report drummer Alex Acuna (with Afanasieff on piano), he coaxes a richer and more muscular tone from his instrument. "Sax-O-Loco" and "Salsa Kenny," which bookend the 12-track set, take a more upbeat tone, while the vocal numbers -- "Mirame Bailar" with Barbara Munoz and "Es Hor de Decir" with Camila -- provide welcome counterpoints to G's melodic excursion. G doesn't discard the light touch he's known for, but there's a headier sense of ambition on "Rhythm and Romance" that makes us hope he doesn't get his heart broken anytime soon.

ARTIST: HOT CHIP

ALBUM: MADE IN THE DARK (DFA/Astralwerks)

From Casiotone swells, a drummer-killing time signature and a guitar-and-tambourine hook that could prompt hand-jiving, this set's first two minutes prime your pump like an action sequence before the opening credits. What follows is a proper blockbuster from the nerdy Brit quintet that continues where 2006 breakout "The Warning" left off. This is the same pop-wise Hot Chip, only wilier and with a more dastardly sonic arsenal. Check out "Shake a Fist," which uses a 1972 spoken-word Todd Rundgren sample to introduce the indie children to the glorious squelch of acid house. "One Pure Thought" laments not having one, over blissed-out reggae, while "Hold On" writes off the notion entirely ("I'm only going to heaven/If it feels like hell"). Mashed-up comparisons aside (the Sea & Cake meets Tom Tom Club while listening to Weezer?), this stuff is singular, and flat-out great.

ARTIST: SPEAK IN TONES

ALBUM: SUBARO (AlphaPocket Records)   Continued...