Jess Klein starts “Strawberry Lover” with one of the most bold steps forward on a disc I’ve ever heard, with “Darkroom” mixing together punk directness, country, musicals (think “Little Shop of Horrors”) and gospel in well less than three minutes. “Shonalee” has to be the farthest that Jess can go away from “Darkroom”, but the nuanced guitar lines on the track ensures the same level of quality being reached by this later track. A middle ground between the first few offerings is made for “Sink My Teeth In”, using the strung-out guitars and quicker tempos of “Darkroom” and more nuanced method of singing of “Shonalee” to make a track destined for alternative radio. What is exciting to me listening to the disc is the fact that Jess’ music so closely skirts the line of “country” music that it could be conceivably played on both country and alternative radio stations without interrupting the flow of either too terribly much. The disc’s title track brings a sultry tone to Klein’s voice, and is masterful in showing that incredibly little in terms of instrumentation on a track is needed to make something wonderful that maintains a listener’s interest.
The ska-infused dope-slow tempo of “Soda Water” shows Klein’s versatility, taking eir vocals in an Esthero or an Ritalin-addled Gwen Stefani-type of direction . The martial drums and wailing of guitars during “Shootout at the Candy Shop” make an odd mish-mash of influences, mixing Lee Ann Womack and the Dixie Chicks with the Outlaws and Lynyrd Skynyrd, something which does not have a parallel in current music – in fact, one really has to look back to Fleetwood Mack for such an inspired decision. The latter part of the disc does not slow down like so many of eir contemporaries; “Orphanage Rage” has a nice rising-falling action that will drag one’s emotions through peaks and valleys while the acoustic/vocal dynamic of “Bombs Are Falling” recalls Janis Joplin.
Jess Klein moves far beyond the folk tag that individuals are apt to put on eir, and really attack the ideas of static music, infusing “Strawberry Lover” with a successful dynamism. This dynamism has been approached by a number of different acts, but the typical result of that is a shattered sense of continuity, a chaos that “ Strawberry Lover” just does not have. Jess Klein is everything to everyone, a true virtuoso that will impress and amuse in any direction that eir wants to go in.
Top Tracks: Willing to Change, Darkroom
Jess Klein – Strawberry Lover / 2004 Ryko / 11 Tracks / http://www.jessklein.com / http://www.rykodisc.com / Reviewed 26 April 2005