If an artist's second album is the tricky one, perhaps kd lang might enlighten us as to how the next eight go. Her wariness at the reaction to Watershed – record number 10 in a two-decade-plus career – was obvious here the day after its release, at the first show of a worldwide tour.
She needn't have worried. The crowd at this sit-down gig – part of Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival – were emphatically on-side, although perhaps that's part of the challenge for a singer in lang's position. With an adoringly loyal fanbase, how do you feel challenged? Here, certainly, every word and note lang uttered was met with exultant applause.
In most respects that's only fair, because the Canadian singer-songwriter is a deeply talented original. She defined androgynous cowboy/girl chic long before Brokeback Mountain, and with a musical sensitivity and skill that won her almost effortless acceptance throughout the somewhat traditional landscape of the country-and-western scene.
Of all the good things about the grey trouser-and-waistcoated, bare-footed lang, her voice is the most charming. She makes this plain early on with a version of Neil Young's "Helpless", which has come to double as a kind of surrogate Canadian national anthem ("there is a town in north Ontario, all my changes were there"). She handles it expertly, her deep but feminine style claiming the track as her own.
Lang's versatility as a songwriter in her own right is also on show. "Western Stars" is a beautiful campfire ballad, enriched by the yawning, prairie-wide slide guitar of Joshua Grange. Daniel Clarke's sparse accordion adds much to the jokey "Smoke Rings", a song whose little innuendos the singer herself can't help but have a laugh at mid-vocal, while "Constant Craving" remains a crowd favourite.
The new songs work and they don't. Lang and her skilful band iron out any rough edges, yet a couple of songs suggest a lang on autopilot, writing pleasantly but not attention-grabbingly. "Sunday", for example, is light piano-jazz shuffle, "Close My Eyes" fairly standard balladeering.
Lang's mastery is back on display in a tribute to fellow Canadian singers Jane Siberry ("The Valley") and Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah"), while the solo banjo stomp of "Jealous Dog" and what she calls an "existentialist lullaby" called "Shadow and the Frame" are the best of the new songs. She describes the former as "a little song I wrote about being kd lang", though for the most part it's our host's enduring talent that should be inspiring the jealousy.