Before a mini rant is underway, let’s get the facts out on the table. Jess Klein is a fantastic singer-songwriter whose blend of country-folk captures perfectly the fusion of thoughtful lyrics, tuneful melodies and a voice to match the very best of Austin’s roots scene. The absolute crime was that she remained Birmingham’s best kept secret on this spring Wednesday evening. This is not to denounce the Ort Café which hosted Jess and guitar picking sidekick Bill Masters but how on earth the second city’s Americana music community didn’t give her a more populous welcome is a sad state of affairs. The truth is this community is disjointed and thus talented touring artists continue to bypass the area. So there was at least some consolation in that Jess was invited, leading to an extremely intimate show which still was a treasure to behold.
In the decade since the career was launched in her native US north east, Jess has rubbed shoulders with some much vaunted icons of Americana music before ultimately gravitating to the singer-songwriter Mecca of Austin, Texas. Over this period the sound has evolved into one you would expect from the Lone Star State, with a hint of twang gracing the folk tales and down to earth quintessential American vocals. As the band which helped produce her latest album BEHIND A VEIL was left at home, it was very much a stripped down fundamental sound that adorned the set list on this evening.
In true professional manner, Jess wasn’t fazed by the turnout and delivered a wide selection of songs stretching from 2005’s STRAWBERRY LOVER right through to a yet to be released EP of songs spilling over from the latest album. She managed to shake off the effects of that cruel singer affliction – laryngitis – to combine the vocals with some insightful background anecdotes and acoustic guitar playing that complemented the subtle electric twang from Bill.
There was a high level consistency in the quality of the songs but three in particular stood out. An old song ‘Shonalee’ , a brand new number written in the wake of her father’s recent passing ‘Beautiful Child’ and ‘Unwritten Song’ with its quirky origin. This latter number started life as a melody with no lyrics as well as the time ticking tenth and final song on the latest album. Yet the lyrical block proved to be the source of the content and its playing tonight was probably the highlight of the set.
The road hardy and self empowered Jess will no doubt, in troubadour style, dust herself down and move onto the next town. Maybe next time the second city will be a little more receptive to the accomplished craft being exported from the ‘live music capital of the world’. All parties in the Americana music community have a duty to embrace such available talent. Thus ensuring more people are acquainted with the fine talents of Jess Klein either live or on record.