Album Review by Adam Foster
Donny & Marie Osmond used to sing that she was a little bit country, and he was a little bit rock and roll. Jeff Klein is both.
Fortunately, he is also a little bit twisted. He’s a little bit Pavement, a little bit Tom Waits. He’s a lot Leonard Cohen.
Like Cohen and Waits, he has a voice that can only get better: given twenty years, a lot of whisky and cigarettes, it will be a classic. Like Waits, he has tried on this album to present different approaches to what are broadly mid-paced songs of love and hate. The first song, EVERYTHING IS ALRIGHT, is beautifully sparse, sung simply against a music-box backing; the final track, TAKE THE WHEEL, places Neilsen-style guitar picking against a feedback backtrack in a song about – again – tainted love.
In between, there is no lack of will to experiment. Military drums, simple piano melodies, multi-layered guitar soundscapes, all make their appearance here, and in interesting ways which work. While attention to detail drops off a little in the middle of the album – there are a number of mid-tempo, slight tracks that fail to deliver the surprises you hope for – there is enough here (CALIFORNIA, I’M SORRY SWEET EMILY, STEADY WINS) to convince you that Klein has a lot to offer. Where he is perhaps weak is in the slightly overstated lyrics: there’s a little too much gasoline, hunger, and death to convincingly carry the banner of weltschmerz. But, hey, the guy’s only 24.
His choice of collaborators is also strong: Matthew Ryan proves to be a cool-headed producer; Klein’s duets with Patty Griffin put me in mind of Kirsty MacColl and Shane McGowan; and the two songs written with Darwin Smith are among the best on the album. As George W Bush has shown, the right people around you can win you a lot of credit.
In brief, as second albums go, this is a little bit excellent and a little bit lazy. Jeff Klein is probably seven tenths of the way there: if he can avoid the easy path of Springsteen-clone AOR rockdom, he’ll be a name to look out for.