Jess Klein: Back To My Green

review jess klein x1 cong

Klein is more country than Americana, though there’s also something of the Laurel Canyon about her, thanks to her voice (mezzosoprano say the sleeve notes). Somewhere between county and lively Carole King. With a touch of Motown thrown in. The album — her 11th — is a mixture of styles, which may or may not be hallmark — this is the first album we’ve heard.

She does protest songs well and the standout is Blair Mountain, about mining. “They stole the mountaintops .. What are we ‘sposed to look up to?” she opens, before moving to the damage mining does: “Brother they let the tunnels cave / Cave in on your friends so brave” and “They turned the river black … So many getting sick.” She delivers the lyrics with venom and the playing packs power. Neil Young would be proud of this one.

Also good is the slower Tougher Than I Seem (“And when you see me cryin’ / It’s just my vision comin’ clean”) while Gates of Hell is another strong composition, a bluesy song opening with the cliched “Woke up this morning and I walked out my front door” before going surreal: she looks down a well and sees “Fires raging like the blazing gates of hell,” and asks her dad for help only to be told: “I’d like to help you, but the bank repossessed my legs”.

Other songs are more personal and reflect changes in her life: “I fell in love, got married, moved across the country to a town I’d never been to. Then the election happened, and all the upheaval that came with that,” she says in the Press notes. She also had a repetitive strain injury that made it painful to play guitar. These songs are less biting than the protest ones, though the lyrics are clever: opener In Dreams kicks the album off poetically with “Your smile blows the dust away / Melts me into the child I used to be.”

Mammal is possibly about escaping a draining relationship with an anxious partner, while the title track is about being that anxious person, listening to frogs “revving it up for a symphony only they understand” and wishing to be “… part of the green / Shimmy along to their rhythm.”

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