When asked what section of the record store her music should be filed, Jess Klein enthusiastically declares, "rock!"
And while that's mostly the right answer, Klein over the course of her career has dabbled in — or been influenced by — the folk, soul, pop, blues and country worlds, as well. That remains true in her latest effort, the self-released "Behind a Veil" (released in April), which also features a dose of Americana.
And through the various styles, her emotive voice seamlessly and engagingly flows from strong and assertive to vulnerable, from folksy to soulful to rocking.
The album begins with a passionate, energetic title track exploring a journey to discovery, whether it be positive or negative, to find truth and, as Klein sings it, beauty.
Has your world fallen apart / Or is this your work of art … The beauty lives behind a veil / In every trick you try and every trial you fail
The beauty found by Klein, who stopped by Yahoo! to perform a few of her songs from this album and its predecessor ("Bound to Love"), in her music and perhaps herself is confidence and comfort.
"I have a pretty strong belief in myself at this time in my life," Klein told Yahoo!. "It's taken going through some hard stuff emotionally but I've found that when I look my fears in the face, they can no longer control me."
The opening title track — with a sound perhaps evoking a little Patti Smith or Lucinda Williams — is the biggest rocker on the album, which then gives way to the sweeter but bluer "Wilson Street Serenade."
Soon after is the slow and melodic "Beautiful Child" and the assertively fun "Tell Me This Is Love" — the former somewhat akin to the mellower side of Bonnie Raitt, the latter of which reminds of John Hiatt, whose song "Before I Go" Klein covered admirably on her previous album.
Among the strongest tracks is the catchy yet defiant "Riverview," a song itself that, with Klein, has evolved over time since she first wrote it from a Stevie Nicks feel to more of a folk sound.
Klein, a singer-songwriter from New York State who set up shop in Boston and New York City before settling in her current locale of Austin, Texas, often has been influenced by her geographic surroundings. And she perhaps now is as comfortable in her own musical skin as she's ever been, which is reflected both in her live shows and on this record.
"When I first started playing in Boston, I had zero idea of what my music was supposed to sound like, because no one had started giving me their opinions yet," Klein said. "I'm proud of all my albums … but in retrospect some of my recordings sound more like the other people I was working with rather than capturing what is uniquely 'me.'"
As with any record, not every track here is accessible to all — especially considering how many different styles are attacked, and the varying levels of musical energy that result. But the common thread is Klein's alluring, impassioned voice.
"With 'Behind a Veil,' I feel like I've gotten back into the space of not caring what anyone else thinks, just making my music," she said. "It feels very liberating."
Other themes on this record — which ranks among her strongest efforts — include Klein wrestling with her faith after the death of her father last year, questioning past decisions or life choices, lamenting the end of a relationship and a simple cry for love. Around her father's battle with ALS, the lesson was in seeing him look for the joy in life while battling such a debilitating disease.
"It was a priceless gift for me to see him do it," she said. "Knowing that I (or any of us) could be gone in a moment keeps me in check. If I knew I would die tomorrow, I probably wouldn't spend today complaining!"
And that speaks to the duality of this record and, perhaps, Klein herself. One moment she's wrestling with her emotions, with her place in the world, the benefits and troubles that come with all relationships, and the next she seems to kick back, jam and focus on what's important in life, weeding out all the distractions. It's also reflected in her lyrics, which sometimes are straightforward and direct and other times more layered and metaphorical.
"There is a theme of loss on this album, but also of what's on the other side — what can't be taken away," she said. "That's why creating — art, music, stories, etc. — is freedom. It's the ability to make something beautiful and moving out of life's pain. Writing and singing these songs helped heal me."
Klein, whose live shows can range anywhere from intimate to rocking to veritable hootenannies, currently is touring Ireland with Arlo Guthrie before playing additional dates in the U.K. and France. She will be back performing in the States in October.
Written by Jonathan Baum