"I pulled no punches on this album," Jess Klein says of her new album Learning Faith. "It's edgy and brutal, but it was inspired by a genuine love for this world."
Over a career that spans more than a decade and a half and has won her a devoted worldwide fan base, Klein—who possesses what Mojo magazine calls "one of those voices you want to crawl up close to the speakers to listen to" and a knack for writing songs that the Cape Cod Times has described as "fully realized, finely observed and deeply felt"—has pursued a remarkable creative evolution that's seen her dig ever deeper for resonant emotional insights, while continuing to refine her eloquently melodic, effortlessly accessible songcraft. As the New York Times noted, Klein is an artist who "has country roots, but who pushes her songs toward philosophical thoughts."
Learning Faith —which marks Klein's third collaboration with veteran producer Mark "Professor Feathers" Addison—boasts ten personally-charged new originals that rank with her most compelling and illuminating work. Such bracing tunes as "Surrender," "So Fucking Cool," "Wish," "Long Way Down" and "If There's A God" (which she was inspired to write after protesting in support of State Senator Wendy Davis' pro-choice 2013 filibuster at the Texas state capitol building) embody the complementary mix of personal fearlessness and musical craftsmanship that define Klein's music.
"It felt a little different this time," the artist notes. "It was the first time that I ever went into a record really feeling that I'd paid my dues, and that now I'm just gonna do and say whatever I want. I finally feel like I really don't care what anybody thinks now. That felt huge, and it felt really empowering. I felt comfortable going as dark as I could, and not feeling like I had to pull back from that.
"It's also the first time I've started a record with a concept and tried to follow it through," she explains. "After I wrote the song 'Learning Faith,' that started me thinking about writing a whole album of songs about the process of developing faith—faith in people, faith in the universe, faith in a higher power. I wanted each song to be about some kind of struggle with faith, and asking what faith really means to me.
"Another thing that's different for me on this record," Klein continues, "is that I'm willing to admit that I don't have the answer. When you're starting out as a younger artist, you can get away without being forced to look at yourself or ask why you're doing this, and what you can really offer. As you get older, it starts to feel more urgent, like 'OK, if I'm gonna drag myself all over the world singing these songs, I've got to get out of this what I came here to get.'"
Learning Faith's rich emotional and musical palette is consistent with the level of commitment that Jess Klein has always brought to her music. The Rochester, NY native taught herself to play her father's acoustic guitar in her teens, and began writing songs as a college student in Kingston, Jamaica. After graduation, she relocated to Boston, where she began performing locally and won acclaim for her self-released debut album Wishes Well Disguised. The attention helped to win her a deal with the Rykodisc label, for which she recorded the albums Draw Them Near and Strawberry Lover, which were warmly received by critics as well as Klein's growing audience. Klein's growing notoriety led to such milestones as an appearance on TV's Good Morning America, and a performance for an audience of 70,000 at Japan's Fuji Rock Festival.
By 2008, when she relocated to the independent-minded musical mecca of Austin, TX, Klein had parted ways with Rykodisc and returned to her D.I.Y. recording roots. She continued to stake out brave new lyrical and musical territory on such albums as 2006's City Garden, 2009's Bound to Love and 2012's Behind A Veil, while continuing to tour throughout North America, Europe and Japan. She also became a beloved presence on her adopted hometown's music scene, while collaborating with such fellow troubadours as Jon Dee Graham, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jimmy LaFave, Slaid Cleaves, Will Sexton, Ray Bonneville, Radney Foster, Randy Weeks, Matt the Electrician and John Fullbright.
"This can be a hard job, and it does require a certain amount of faith to continue doing it," Klein observes, adding, "There have been several points where I've questioned my career choice. But every time I've gotten close to feeling defeated, I've pulled myself back up and come out of it stronger. And the more times I choose to keep doing it, the stronger I feel about it, and the stronger I feel about reaching a little deeper and putting everything out on the table.
"When you're younger, you don't totally know who you are yet, and you're still trying to figure things out. Now I feel more at ease with who I am and why I do this. My motivation now for playing music is to connect with people, and to do that by connecting with myself, which is the hardest and scariest part.
"The reward," she concludes, "is those moments where all the other bullshit subsides and you have a total, pure connection with the audience, or with just one person. I feel so blessed to be able to have this connection with people that's based on something real, and I guess that that's what I look for now."