By Jeff Klein
After around Europe with One Little Indian label mate Jesse Malin, this is Jeff Klein's first UK release. The 25 year old is now a resident of Austin, Texas after relocating from New York. His landlady even makes an appearance on the album performing backing vocals.
Luckily the landlady just happens to be a certain Patty Griffin and her sweet, tender vocals contrast kindly with Klein's gruff, coarse growl. He controls that growl well though, knowing when to hold it back as more a gruff whisper and then let it unfold upon the melody. At times he sounds like Jeff Tweedy and musically some of the songs often give a nod in the direction of Wilco with some less conventional guitar sounds emanating from the amplifiers; gentle melodies with a darker edge.
Opener "Everything Is Alright" sets pretty much the standard tone for the album, it's gentle toy piano hinting of the delicacy of the songs to come. "Keep It (Like A Secret) is a beautiful ballad with a gorgeous Fender Rhodes melody that lilts in and out between the guitars. Griffin's vocals again raise the standard, harmonising with Klein; "careful what you wish for baby, it just might come true".
"Another Breakdown" lifts the tempo, a foot tapping rocker with an influenza like guitar hook that refuses to vacate your ears. Klein's lyrics are mostly downbeat, yet are delivered with an optimism that prevent him from becoming just another melancholy troubadour; "empty hearts and empty houses fill my cup, the best of beggars can't be choosers so drink it up, because I just drink it up". The change of pace comes just at the right time, the distorted guitars and driving beat pushing the album forward.
Less chirpy is "Steady Wins" with it's repeated guitar motif and slow building wall of sound combining with the unsettling lyrics telling of a marriage gone sour "do I have to take you outside and show you what a real man is?". It's the kind of song that takes a few listens to appreciate it's full depth both musically and lyrically.
The album is at it's strongest halfway through with "Five Good Reasons" almost guaranteed to get you laid if you play this for the one you love. Not that it's a love sonnet, just that it's melody is one of tremendous beauty and fragility. It's a song to listen to as you dwell on all that is wrong in your life, the chorus a clever piece of lyricism with a clever last line that has you reciting it back it's meaning dawns on you. Whilst there's pain within the lyrics; "I don't understand how someone as close to you as me could be the pit of all your hate and all your greed", there's a sense of hope and brighter way forward within the music, the pedal steel creating a soft ambience along with the whispered second vocal part.
Classic Americana lyricism twinned with gentle, brooding and atmospheric backing make this a fine debut, with Klein arriving just as there's a resurgence of popularity for the singer/songwriter. "Everybody loves a winner but when you lose alone". Well for now I don't think Klein will be short of company.