NEW YORK - The first minute of k.d. lang's new disc "Watershed" feels like a quick trip through her musical life.
The song "I Dream of Spring" features a Brazilian beat, background strings and that soaring voice. Then, almost startlingly, comes the entrance of a pedal-steel guitar — an echo of the country music she was known for at the beginning of her career.
It wasn't intentional, she said. But perhaps because it is the first album she produced herself and wasn't answerable to another person's vision, "Watershed" draws together the styles she has touched upon over the past 25 years.
"I shy away from typecasting, whether it's lesbian icon or vegetarian or country singer," she told The Associated Press. "To me, I'm just me and these are all aspects of my personality. I don't like being called a country singer. I'm just a vocalist. I don't fit into any genres perfectly because I don't listen to any. I'm a musical nomad, so that's the way I want to be seen."
It's lang's first album of her own songs in seven years. Don't blame writer's block; she spent time on other projects including a disc of songs by fellow Canadian songwriters.
Her new songs feel halting, almost tentative. They reflect the lesson that life has fewer absolutes the older you get (she's 46). Her production credo was not to over-rehearse her songs, to get as close to the moments of inspiration as she could. "Jealous Dog," for example, is a first take and sounds almost incomplete.
The title "Watershed" refers to some years of personal soul-searching. "Flame of the Uninspired" is the most direct.
"It's a song about how I would wreak havoc on my personal life as a way of finding fodder for my songwriting," she said. "I saw that as a pattern that was unnecessary. As an artist, I'm probably more healthy and more legitimate if I can produce art at anytime."
Hear, too, the woman who wrote "Constant Craving" sing about how "she will drive you crazy, baby ... once in a while."
The restraint is audible in her voice. She may have the most powerful set of pipes in the business, yet these songs rarely call for her to show them off. It's like the race car driver heading to the supermarket; you know he can go 150 mph, but this isn't the time or place.
Another big change in lang's life was her need to find a new band. Some of the players she's performed with for years now make too much money as studio musicians to go out on the road anymore.
"It's kind of like putting a basketball team together," she said. "It's personality and talent. There are all sorts of aspects to putting together a band."
Lang is now on the smaller, more artist-oriented Nonesuch Records label. She loves spending time on iTunes exploring new music and doesn't exactly mourn the decline of the industry.
"I've been making records for 25 years, which is a really, really long time these days," she said. "Now I've reached a place where I feel like it's really just about making records. I feel like the public attention is really honest, where it's more about my music and less about my personality."
On the Net: