Her heartfelt rendition of “Amazing Grace” is a highlight of her newly released album.
It might be overstating the case to say Kelly Lang’s new album Dragonfly is just heavenly. But not by much. The exquisitely expressive singer-songwriter has delivered a deftly balanced mix of newly written songs and beloved traditional hymns that are by turns inspiring, comforting, and just plain delightful. And sometimes, all three at once.
C&I is proud to premiere one of the most deeply affecting cuts on the album, Lang’s heartfelt take on “Amazing Grace.”
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of talking with Kelly Lang about Dragonfly. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
Cowboys & Indians: First off, congratulations on your wonderful new album. One of the striking things about it is the way you’ve balanced new music with traditional hymns. Did you set out to have this balance when you were choosing songs for Dragonfly?
Kelly Lang: At first, my intention was to just put out an EP of “I Think It's Jesus,” and just a couple of other things that I had written. But the further I went into this, the more I thought there’s a couple of songs from my past that would fit here, on an inspirational path. And when a friend of mine’s mother passed away, I recorded “Go Rest High on That Mountain” and “Amazing Grace” for her. And I thought, those are so emotional to me, they would be a really nice addition to this. And they're both some of my favorite songs.
Then my same friend — her son is a special needs child. He was put in the hospital with strokes and seizures, and the only thing that would calm him down was when I would sing “Jesus Loves Me” to him. And I thought, “I’m going to record it for their family, so they can always have it, instead of me just singing it to him over the phone.” So it would just piece together like that. It was just from the heart. There were just so many things that I didn’t intentionally plan per se, but seemed to be a perfect addition as the project evolved.
C&I: So the EP grew into an album?
Kelly: Well, this started out last October, when I released a song called “Life Sentence.” That song was just out there as a single, and I dedicated it to my friend Olivia Newton-John, who had just passed. It was just a standalone song. But that got me to thinking it needs to be attached to an album. Because when I perform it in concert, people say, “Oh, where can I get that? Do you have that on a CD?” And I’m like, “Huh. Oh, I hadn't thought about that.” So it was just the beginning of the project. And being that it was an inspirational song, and something that a lot of women in particular really related to, I thought I need to put a little bit more of a collection together. So that started the idea of the EP.
And then I had written “I Think It's Jesus,” which led to a more inspirational feeling for an album. And then it got me to thinking that there’s a few songs that I’ve written in my past that perhaps the listeners today might not have heard from me. So I went back and recorded a couple of songs from the past. One of my very first albums, I recorded the song “Down On My Knees” and “Down in Destin.” And those songs just mean a lot to me. They just always have. When people hear me sing them, they go, “Oh, that’s so spiritual sounding.” They aren’t necessarily gospel or Christian songs — they just have a feeling that make my heart swell. And I just felt that this album needed those particular songs on it. And of course, then we go into the other more gospel type of songs that are here. I’m so blessed, Joe, to be able to be in a position where I can put what I want on a project instead of being directed by a label to tell me what I can’t have.
C&I: You mentioned your friend Olivia Newton-John. One of the best cuts on her recent posthumously released Just the Two of Us album is your duet with her on “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Kelly: Yes. Before Olivia passed, she called me and goes, “Hey, forgot to tell you, you're on my last album.” Or, wait, she didn’t say last, but latest album, because she had no clue that she was obviously not going to be here when it came out. And I’m like, “I'm sorry, what?” And she said, “Yeah. You, Mariah Carey, John Travolta, Barry Gibb…” And I’m like, “Wait, what?” I was floored. We had recorded “How Can You Mind A Broken Heart” earlier for a project that I had called Throwback. And it did pretty good for me, but I really didn’t promote it as much as I should have. She was not in a position to promote it much from her end, so it just sat there. But what a bittersweet, beautiful surprise that this did end up on that project of hers, Just the Two of Us. She was always extremely supportive of my music and career — and man, I miss her. Wow.
C&I: Finally, was there a cut on Dragonfly that was especially difficult to record? Like, “Oh, man, we’re on the 57th take here…”
Kelly: [Laughs] Oh, I have to be honest with you, all of this was such a pleasure. None of it was difficult. It was just the creative freedom to be able to just do what I want. For instance, the song “Dragonfly.” When I’m in my swimming pool and I’m writing songs, the weirdest phenomenon happens to me. I can hold my fingers up — and literal dragonflies come and land on my fingers. And it is a very spiritual experience for me out there, because it’s calming. It’s very much like a sanctuary. There’s red birds all around me. There’s dragonflies on me. And people know that about me. They think it’s just strangest thing ever, but it’s very common to me.
But I thought, “Why is this interesting thing happening? Why am I experiencing dragonflies landing on me? I don't know anybody else that has had that really happen”. So I just started in my head humming a tune and singing about dragonflies. And at first I thought, “Oh, this is so silly. It’s so childish and childlike.” But I started playing it on piano. And then I went into the studio, not really thinking this would land on this project. But there’s something about the music in that particular song that is enchanting. And I’m not saying that from my perspective. Other people have mentioned that to me, that it draws you in. And although it’s probably not relatable to a lot of people, it's very childlike and innocent.
One of the greatest compliments I had is when my background vocalist came in — he’s a very big Bee Gees fan, and he knows I’m friends with Barry Gibb — and he said, “Did you and Barry Gibb write this?” And then I started laughing, because I'm like, “No, Barry wouldn’t have written this.” And he said, “Oh my gosh, it sounds like a Bee Gees tune. It's so ethereal.” And I’m like, “That is so funny, because I thought it was childlike and very simple.” And he was like, “Oh, no. This is very intricate.” And I'm like, “Well. Okay.”
So it’s surprising. These songs that I’ve put on here, I love to get responses to them from people. Because as the writer, I’m too close to the forest, and I don’t know what other people are getting from them, or hearing, until I hear back. So it’s interesting. And I’m also surprised that men have heard the song “Dragonfly” are taken back with it. [Laughs] Because to me, it was just me singing about a darn dragonfly landing on me.