Saturday, April 23, 2005
Jess Klein, Strawberry Lover - Sydney Morning Herald
By Benard Zuel
Post-punk, country, soul? This many-sided singer does it all - beautifully.
Jess Klein, Strawberry Lover (Ryko/Stomp)
To understand why Jess Klein should be in your record collection right now, it may help to reorganise some easily thrown around terms.
We've been awash in "post-punk" bands lately, those people taking a cool-eyed funk approach to rock songs with yapping choruses, much as many grim-looking but secretly melodic bands did in the late 1970s and early '80s. But after punk it wasn't just tight rhythms and yelping vocals. There were people like the Pretenders, Nick Lowe, Rachel Sweet and Elvis Costello doing things with rock songs that were as enjoyable as anything from the mid-'60s.
So "post-punk" also meant the return of the pop song in its many forms, and about 30 seconds into Darkroom, the first song on Jess Klein's album, you are reminded why that's a damn good thing. Here comes Klein like a more countrified Rachel Sweet over an insistent Motown-meets-Chelsea punch. Two songs on, in Sink My Teeth In, you can hear echoes of Chrissie Hynde as a dash of jangling guitar precedes a chorus you could build a house on. And later in Office Girl, Klein, along with perfectly pitched backing vocals, brings to the party both Spector girl groups and the Bangles when they were a top-notch guitar pop band.
But this album isn't some skinny-tie convention. Klein's muse runs to country and country/soul, too. There are the gorgeously sad early double of the jukebox ballad Shonalee and Strawberry Lover's last waltz of the night - two songs topped in their Lucinda Williams moves only by the beer-and-tears-soaked album closer, Willing To Change - while elsewhere, Ribbons is steeped in Emmylou Harris, Soda Water has a louche saloon tempo and Shootout at the Candy Shop could have arrived on the last Tift Merritt album.
To complete the package, Klein has a voice worth reckoning with and lyrics worth hearing. There's nothing splashy about either of those weapons; just simplicity done well, whether it's the waitress working the late shift at a cheap diner in Shonalee or the way Klein brings to Soda Water a drawl that says: I've been in this bar long enough to have tried all the drinks behind the bar and all the men in front of it and I've outlasted them all.
It's an excellent album.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald