Sometimes artists try to sound like another era, but often come up short. Other, rare artists, personally embody another era. That’s what we have here with Jack Klatt, a musician who embodies an era of classic folk music… and by classic I mean wayyyy back to Woody Guthrie. “People just don’t make music like that anymore.” Wrong Grandma. They do. His name is Jack Klatt and he’s pretty much amazing.
These songs are not “like” the old style. They ARE the old style. They embody historical moments, timeless emotions, and even a simple affect that has some of us feeling sentimental heart skips. Jack Klatt’s vocals seem to transcend time and his guitar licks are perfectly 1920s. Woody Guthrie could have sat in on this set and no one would have been the wiser.
The opening “The Panic is On” is set in the Great Depression, with an ample reference to the desperation of the time. It has the characteristic upbeat sound of music during that era. It could fit right in on a collection of hits from the time. (In fact, I’m fairly certain this is a cover of the 1931 Hezekiah Jenkins classic.)
“Leavin’ Home” is about a break up and leaving his woman. It’s sad, but it has that ramblin’ man guitar sound to it that is so distinctly Americana. It’s just an endearing song, even if it is terribly sad. There are so many good songs on the album that it’s tough to just pull them out. “Wild about my lovin’” is an uncharacteristically risque song, but so good. The following “Goodbye, So Long” is a sad, introspective and roots-blues tune. The lyrical and minor-chord turns in the song are deceptively effective in creating a complex song, while the overall affect remains seemingly sweet. Klatt still articulates himself well, but it’s a different kind of acoustic pattern and construction. All told, these songs in the middle of the album feed an overwhelmingly charming sound.
From “Leavin’ Home” and “Goodbye, So Long” there’s an evident reflection on the 1920s traveling atmosphere. The combination of migration patterns for work in the west and southwest, as well as the realities of new found social mobility and literal vehicular mobility had people traveling in droves. That hobo lifestyle is often mimicked in music, but Klatt makes great strides to actually replicate the perspective in valuable ways.
The album itself is not totally conducive to a song-by-song review, largely because they sound very similar in many cases. That said, it’s a similarity that I enjoy. He’s intentionally reflecting classic American music. I’ll take a minute to focus on the four songs with “blues” in their name. This is not the standard blues that conjures up images of B.B. King. Rather, it’s a rambling, road-worn blues that references drinking (“Brown Bottle Blues”), existential spirituality (“Barnet’s Blues”), emotional instability (“Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues”), and broken relationships (“Stop and Listen Blues”). When taken together, what these songs all do is connect a true human emotion with a toe-tapping rhythm. That’s what the blues is all about. It helps people learn to express themselves, rather than medicating away their feelings. They make the 1920s and 30s come alive, imagining Klatt as a railroad rambler busking for his meals and a bed. Klatt brings timeless music into the present age.
His website references his “whiskey-worn” voice. That absolutely comes through in every song on the album. Klatt is the kind of artist that made me want to see him live immediately. That doesn’t always happen. But there’s something truly spectacular about his approach to music in both vocals and guitar. It’s not just that he’s historical, which I enjoy. It is, rather, this deeply reflective writing style and deft performance that characterizes an era. This album is a must buy for fans of Americana and true folk music, but will be less appealing to fans of the neo-folk revival. In other words, this is soulful real folk music of dusty American workers, not hipster folk written for PBR-drinking young professionals.