Kelly Lang is an artist that is no doubt familiar to country fans. Since her teenage years, she has been prominently featured on such country-related TV shows as "The Ralph Emery Show" and "Music City Tonight." Her last album, the musically adventurous "11:11," gained much critical acclaim, but for her newest project, "Shades Of K," the singer goes back to the future. A collection of covers, the sound of the disc hearkens back to the days of Billy Sherrill productions on artists such as Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
"Somebody called it 'Countrypolitan,' which I had not heard that term in many years," she said, referring to the description given to much of Sherrill's work with Columbia and Epic. "I'll take that compliment any day," she says with a smile, adding that album was not something she had planned. "It wasn't on purpose. It started out being three or four songs that I loved that I wanted to have a demo on. It turned into a much bigger project. I just have a passion for these songs."
Lang said there was no certain time period that she was concentrating on for "Shades Of K," as much as she just wanted to shine the spotlight on some of her favorite songs.
"I went for the total love of a great song," she admitted, adding that "It didn't matter what genre or who wrote it. It just came from my heart."
One song that she is excited for her fans to hear is her take on the Eddy Arnold classic "You Don't Know Me." She recalled that Emery suggested she do the song years ago. "I remember him saying 'That type of song really fits your vocals.' It was always one of those melodies, and I always thought if I did an album like this, it would be great to honor Ralph with it by heeding his advice."
The record also allowed Lang to revisit some emotions from long ago, especially on "Bluer Than Blue," a 1978 hit for Michael Johnson. "I was going through a difficult time with someone that I loved, and I just felt blue. A friend of mine said 'Bluer than blue?' It just brought me back to that moment when I first heard that song. When you miss somebody, there's nothing like a sad song to bring you all the way down!"
As lush as the arrangements on Shades Of K might be, there is no hiding the natural twang in Lang's voice. This is most apparent on her stunning take on Vern Gosdin's classic "If You're Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right)." Of the 1983 CMA Song of the Year nominee, she says "That was one of my all-time favorites. It was crafted masterfully, and is something you would love to say to someone who hurt you. I know from experience!"
Stepping into the role of interpreter of these classics on the album was a little intimidating. "It's scary singing songs that have become such iconic hits for other people. Everybody wants to listen to their favorite artist doing them. I was a little intimidated to touch a lot of these, especially this one in particular. I hope people will hear it with fresh ears and a new spin on it. I certainly didn't want to try to beat the original, because you can't," she allows.
But, that's not to say she didn't enjoy going down memory lane – whether on "I Don't Need You" from Kenny Rogers or "You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me," originally made famous by Gladys Knight & The Pips. She has clear memories of listening to the song while growing up in Oklahoma.
"We would hear this music as children all through the house. I remember that we would put roller skates on, and skate in the carport. My mom would have it on repeat on the turntable. I thought I was Gladys. I wanted to be her and sing these songs when I grew up. We slowed it down a little bit, and put some orchestration on it. I'm without the Pips," she says warmly, "but it's such a magical song."
The disc contains one original song, the romantic "The Next One," which features husband T.G. Sheppard on harmony. But, the rest of the album is firmly entrenched in classic territory. As a legendary record executive in Nashville once told her, a classic is something that doesn't change.
"Fred Foster once told me that a hit is a hit is a hit. It doesn't matter how you cut it, faster, slower, even a different style of music, if it's a hit – it's going to remain that."