Today (9.29.2016) is National Coffee Day here in the United States, as well as 20 other countries around the globe, including Canada, England, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and South Africa. While I don’t drink coffee, I know many friends and family who do love it, and who are celebrating the day today. I will celebrate National Coffee Day in the best way I know how – by offering up a hot cup of “Black Coffee,” sung by the amazing k.d. lang.
kathryn dawn lang was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1961, and by her college years, she had become infatuated with Patsy Cline – her life, her music, whatever she could find out about the Country music legend, who died from a car crash in early March 1963 at the far too young age of 30 (k.d. lang was just over a year old at the time).
In 1983, k.d. lang formed a Patsy Cline tribute band called The Reclines, and they released an album the following year, A TRULY WESTERN EXPERIENCE, which brought k.d. and her band some national attention in her Canadian homeland. In 1985, she received a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) for Most Promising Female Vocalist. They sure got that right.
The next album for k.d. and The Reclines, 1987’s ANGEL WITH A LARIAT, was her first album for Sire Records, and they got some serious producing help from the brilliant Dave Edmunds. The album reached No. 40 on the Canadian Country album chart, and No. 53 on BILLBOARD’s Country album chart. It was also certified Gold in Canada.
k.d. would go on to record another album in 1989 with The Reclines (the Grammy award-winning ABSOLUTE TORCH AND TWANG), but not before releasing her 1988 debut solo album, SHADOWLAND. The album was a tribute of sorts to record producer Owen Bradley, who was partly responsible for Country music’s Nashville sound in the 1950s and 1960s.
Own Bradley worked with Country artists like Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Burl Ives and Brenda Lee, and was at the helm for many of Patsy Cline’s most famous recordings. I believe it was because of this reason that k.d. lang wanted to seek out Owen Bradley and have him produce SHADOWLAND.
On SHADOWLAND, k.d. takes on songs written by Chris Isaak, Roger Miller, Bob Wills and more, and on the album’s closer, the “Honky Tonk Angels’ Medley,” she gets some help from legendary Country music angels Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Brenda Lee.
“Black Coffee” was co-written in 1948 by Sonny Burke (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics). It was first recorded by Sarah Vaughan, one of the best Jazz voices ever, in 1949. Peggy Lee released her version in 1953, and Ella Fitzgerald covered it in 1960. Over the years, it’s been covered dozens of times, including versions by Ray Charles, Petula Clark, The Pointer Sisters, Marianne Faithfull (in 2008) and Sinéad O’Connor (in 1992).
About 15 seconds into k.d. lang’s version of “Black Coffee,” she immediately showcases her strong, lush and unforgettable vocals. (“I’m feeling mighty lonesome / Haven’t slept a wink / I walk the floor and watch the door / And in between I drink / Black Coffee / Love’s a hand me down brew / I’ll never know a Sunday / In this weekday room…”)
SHADOWLAND was well-received in both Canada and the U.S., reaching No. 9 on the Canadian album chart, No. 23 on Canada’s Country album chart, No. 9 on BILLBOARD’s Country album chart, and No. 73 on the BILLBOARD album chart. The album was certified Silver in the U.K., Gold in the U.S., and Platinum in Canada.
Whether or not you are a fan of k.d. lang and her music, you can’t deny she has one of THE BEST voices in music for any genre, and for all time. Don’t believe me? Find a copy of this album online, at the library, in the record store, listen to it and by the end of the “Honky Tonk Angels’ Medley,” you’ll be raising your mug of black coffee to the late, great Owen Bradley and to the sensational k.d. lang. Cheers to you all, and then some…