Sunday, January 09, 2005

That's Just Perfect

Generally I don't get off on listening to a perfect voice in music, anymore than I spend too much time looking directly into the sun. Even the female voices I like the best, however bell-toned, artlessly angelic, or sweetly sexy, hide some fatal flaw (which, of course, only makes them more lovely for they need to be loved):

Exhibit A: Sally Timms, with a voice that always hints at something dissolute (too much ache, not enough care, unwilling to care to ache that much).

Exhibit B: Syd Straw, who gets gets caught repeating phrases, a compulsive-obsessive moment many of her songs come to, as if singing a phrase just right might bring the pieces of a love, a life back together. Her voice worries over words till they’re worn down, almost free of meaning, shiny jewels, beauty that’s arrived too late on the scene.

Exhibit C: Neko Case, who flits between genres as a way to be free, all-too-willing to let the discovery be something beyond what her "mere" voice can bring to a cut--what a great unknown Shangri-La's tune, how we forgot Loretta Lynn rocked before she met Jack White, who knew that Case herself would become such a good songwriter?

So tonight I saw k.d. lang live for the first time. Blinded by the voice, I was. On record she tends to be too much for me--or should I say not enough, for perfection is a kind of emptiness--, but with her goofy dance moves and clever asides, live she's something else. And you see that voice come out of her. It's the very thing lost on our lip-synching divas, nowadays, and some words of advice, Ashlee, Lindsay: if you’re going to lip-synch, you might as well find someone more talented to sing for you in the first place.

Bent half over to reach low for a note on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," that old war horse that's survived Cohen himself, Rufus Wainwright, John Cale, and even Scrubs using the John Cale version as unrelenting emotional blackmail (how else is a silly sitcom going make you cry?), lang unearthed something. She connected with the stage, and the wet California ground and rumbling shocks ran back to Canada or wherever Cohen keeps himself these days. If there's such a thing as owning a song, it was her throw away the key moment. Not that any of us can be locked there, for memory is more fragile than voice, and even now just mere hours after, I'm stuck making things up, adding words to words when I should be trying simply to sound.


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