Western Tales & Trails
'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are dead. Upon a wind-swept hilltop pueblo, a sluggish sun rises with no purpose. A whispered name hangs in the air, faded. In a boomtown saloon, a driller longs for Ruby Darby, the finest dancing whore in the land. A shunned lover crosses the great west in search of his woman and her ranger beau. A shoot-out in a wasteland of purple sage.' These are a few of the settings for the songs of 'Western Tales & Trails', Athens, GA-based troubadour and singer/songwriter Adam Klein's dynamic second record. A collection of southern and western-themed legends and story songs, here are timeless tales of longing, journeys, a search, and a hope for something better littered with characters who, despite their chances, are fighting through. Backed by an all-star cast of players, including acclaimed musician/songwriter Randall Bramblett (Traffic, Allman Brothers, Robbie Robertson), pedal steel master John Neff (Drive-By Truckers), session player Phil Parlapiano (John Prine, ex-Grant Lee Buffalo) and fiddler Dave Blackmon (Widespread Panic), 'Western Tales & Trails' stands out as a remarkably strong achievement and clear progression in Klein's sound and songwriting. Yet it's not the borrowed talents alone that distinguish the album. Klein delivers a work of art-- finely crafted songs, masterful storytelling, poetic lyricism and striking imagery channelled through his gentle yet penetrating voice. Think Steve Earle 'Train A Comin'' meets Josh Ritter's latest western romp, with Townes Van Zandt stopping by for a drink or two. Klein has marked himself as a true original, a significant new writer who must be heard. 'Western Tales & Trails' builds upon the rustic, country folk of Klein's debut record, 'Distant Music', through it's fuller sound and instrumentation as well as the varied character of each song. The twelve tracks feature touches of rustic folk, Americana, Texas swing, Sun Studios' rockabilly, and straightforward folk-rock replete with shimmering guitars, AJ Adams' untraditional steel stylings, and horns for good measure. Klein channels the folklore of the American West with great precision, clarity, and effect. And his is a unique perspective, stemming from perhaps a most unlikely of places. "Like 'Distant Music', I feel this record owes a lot to my time in Mali. It seemed like the old West," says Klein, "and I think much of the music I've been writing since then reflects that atmosphere." Drawing inspiration from his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer on the plains of Mali, West Africa, Klein felt a taste of the old West. "It looked like either West Texas or Mars. Life was pure and simple. Living without electricity or running water, ruled by the cycles of nature, reliant on subsistence farming.. It felt like something straight out of Faulkner or Steinbeck- you'd take the donkey cart into the county seat 25 kilometers away for market day." There, in a West African village at the crossroads of age-old practices and modernity, where change can be slow and the traditional stands firm amidst a process of development, Klein began crafting songs colored by the mystique of the American West of yore. 'Western Tales & Trails' captures that familiar aura and spins tales that will linger long beyond the latest listen. Returning home, Klein found himself seeking out folklore on the American West and South, turning a number of stories into songs. Like "Nomie Wise", a traditional tale of the murder of a young woman by the hands of her lover in North Carolina, which has been sung as a ballad for nearly a century. "I just read the story in a book and thought it was perfect for a song so I took a stab at it. I had no idea the legend has been a staple tale in the traditional folk repertoire," Klein comments. But whereas the the song has always been presented in a third person narrative, here Klein gives voice to the killer John Lewis, who awaits the gallows at the coming dawn. It's a coincidental stroke, and with it's electric power and driving drums, the song is a perfect blend of a traditional murder ballad with a modern sound. Or "Dead Cow Hill", a poetic rendition of the final days of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which should take it's place as one of the finest story-songs of the day. Reminiscent of a Townes Van Zandt masterpiece, it's a hushed tale featuring a delicate acoustic guitar and soft, haunting pedal steel. The record closes with "Joni (Corner of a Dark Cafe)", which stands in conversation with Joni Mitchell's devastating classic, "The Last Time I Saw Richard". Here we find Klein, dispirited, in a dark cafe, the fate of all good dreamers and romantics, contemplating lost youth and wasted potential: "So you sit there with your book and baby I'll sit right here with mine/ And we'll dream together of a better life somewhere in a better time". And perhaps that life can never be, but, as in the songstress Mitchell's piece, Klein affords some hope: a vision of California, the promise and consummation of the West, to end the song cycle amidst an apex of swirling organ and horns. Recorded over the course of one year by Athens' mainstay/multi-instrumentalist AJ Adams (ex-Blueground Undergrass, Bloodkin) at his Troubadour Den studio in Athens, the album formed slowly, with great attention to detail. "It was a new creation process for me," says Klein. "We recorded pretty straightforward with guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, and built from there. Between bringing in all the players and matching schedules, it was a prolonged process. But we didn't overdo it- we just tried to capture some great performances and let it live." Behind the strength of 'Distant Music', Klein performed throughout the U.S. and toured in Ireland, the UK, and Netherlands. He was an official showcasing artist at the 2008 Folk Alliance conference, and has shared the stage with artists as diverse as Kevn Kinney, Okkervil River, Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck, Nels Andrews, Elvis Perkins, KaiserCartel, and Caroline Herring. With 'Western Tales & Trails' Klein demonstrates his already formidable skill at blending the finest elements of folk, Americana, and country in imaginative, engaging songs. Klein is here to stay, and with the soul and voice of a poet, he continues to emerge as a significant new writer and performer in American folk music.