Friday, 22 February 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Jess Klein - Back to My Green: Blue Rose Records (Out February 22nd)

It was six years ago when the music of Jess Klein first crossed my path, although a little research stretches her carer back a lot further. Activity from her has been patchy since attending back-to-back gigs in Birmingham in 2013-14, but this is set to change this year with a brand new album and accompanying UK tour. BACK TO MY GREEN takes her back catalogue into double figures and is a chance to re-energise a European presence for this American singer-songwriter. The anticipated release date on the cusp of a Northern Hemisphere spring is symbolic to the feel of this album, which sees Jess in rejuvenated form following a series of life changing episodes including re-locating from the increasingly stuffy confines of Austin Texas to the more relaxed surroundings of Hillsborough North Carolina.

The freshness sweeping across this album begins with a bright and breezy cover and takes root right from the first track. Starting with the opening number can appear a little structural, but it is a toss up to whether the vibes of ‘In Dreams’ best reflect the record rather than the standout track ‘New Thanksgiving Feast’. The latter ingrained instant appeal from the initial plays before the texture of the record took hold, but eventually the soulful, heading nodding-foot tapping tones of the opener made this a justifiable first port of call.

This first track acts as the only co-write on the album and sees Jess hook up with North Carolina stalwart Jonathan Byrd, a popular figure on the UK touring circuit. Elsewhere, Jess’s solo pursuit of writing something meaningful and accessible strikes several chords, probably no darker than the political-enviro protest piece ‘Blair Mountain’, best summed up in the line ‘they stole the mountain top’.

Throughout an optimum playing time of ten tracks in forty minutes, the production steering ensures the feel rarely drifts from a zone that would have attracted mainstream play in simpler times. Yet a streak of lucid clarity coupled with a soul-lite coating belies a deep inner strength to the writing. Using the term ‘pop-Americana’ would have a lot more credence with this album under its wing.

One key to unlocking this album could lie with the pivotal placing of the title song, the idyllically titled ‘Back to My Green’.  While being a strong reflective track at the very heart of the record, it is somewhat overshadowed by the aforementioned ‘New Thanksgiving Feast’, which immediately follows it. Exceeding five minutes in length, underpinned by a gentler acoustic sound away from the plusher parts of the record and laden with lyrics reaching out to important issues, leads this song into epic territory and it blossoms at this junction. Press release info indicates the song as a ‘tribute to Native American pipeline protestors’, but interpretation from lyrical references and content can relate to many issues needing addressing in the current climate.

You should now be getting the picture that this album frequently juxtaposes light and dark.

Back adopting a chronological approach to assessing this album brings you to the final four tracks. Together as a quartet they present an alternative feel to what surfaces from the first half. ‘Gates of Hell’ leads off this segment of the record and rolls out as a folk story-like song. The sound drifts into a softer tenderer zone for ‘4 the Girlz’, minimalist in both production feel and abbreviated title, though there are moments when the song raises its tempo. ‘Kid’ is a song struggling to make an impact, maybe suffering from the strength of the stronger numbers that precede it rather than bearing inadequacies. ‘I Hear Love’ acts as the archetypal closer, choosing a softer exit rather than a rousing finale, but fits in more with the overall effect of the record.

BACK TO MY GREEN is a record to get Jess Klein back into the recording groove and ensure a natural talent does not lie too dormant. It contains numerous highs amongst a steady base to ensure the album never loses its listener’s interest. Ultimately, this album will forge a clear path to many welcoming ears.