k.d. lang’s first independent album — her second with the reclines, who started as a Patsy Cline tribute band — is a fun and rollicking throwback to 1950s country music. Shifting between upbeat honky tonk numbers and melancholy weepies, the 25th anniversary re-issue of A Truly Western Experience is an album that devout k.d. fans should own, as it suggests some of the singer’s early ironic turns, which would later come to play in releases such as Drag.
The record begins with the kicking “Friday Night Promenade”, an enthusiastic number about “L.O.V.E” naturally. As she “shuffles her heels” and “dippity-do’s” her hairstyle, her band chime in with harmonica, violin, and steel guitar before launching into the soaring “Damned Old Dog”, where the most profound instrument that is Miss Lang’s voice lingers, swoops, and drawls. But this sombre mood quickly returns to dizzying heights with the twang-induced “Bopalena”, a cover song perhaps more synonymous with Webb Pierce or Ronnie Self.
As k.d. works her way through the number forcefully asserting that “she’s my gal”, one starts to catch a glimpse of what would soon become part of Lang’s sardonic flare. Listening to this now, these words seem like a tongue-in-cheek nudge from a performer who would become the most widely accepted LGBT figure in the world of country music. Since its release, Lang has managed to build a niche for herself by adopting various identities and personas within the traditionally conservative canon of country, and indeed within the easy listening genre generally.
Yet, beyond the subtext there are meaty numbers like “Pine and Stew”, and the alliterative, “Busy Being Blue” — a downhearted piece that bristles with longing and self-pity. This reissue by Bumstead Records also includes a number of live recordings counting the energetic “Johnny Get Angry” and “Mercy”, which finds k.d. squealing and shrieking a little like a restrained Janis Joplin. There is also a bonus DVD that holds the videos for “Hanky Panky”, “Bopalena”, and “Pollyann” with the set.
With their nostalgic DIY feel, these fragments find Lang adopting various personas looking like a mash up of Elvis and Betty Boop – and despite their brevity, one assumes that these are treasures that k.d. completists will cherish. Unfortunately, this re-release doesn’t include any liner notes, which would have provided useful context for listeners seeking to retrace this artist’s back catalogue; despite this flaw, A Truly Western Experience still remains a crisp, welcoming record for k.d. fans and country music listeners alike.