An Atlanta-via-Athens, Georgia-based singer/songwriter and troubadour, Adam Klein’s music touches on Americana, rustic country folk, folk-rock, and West African Mande music. He performs in a variety of settings– either solo/duo, with his band, Adam Klein & The Wild Fires, or occasionally with his American roots-meets-West-African-roots project under his Peace Corps name in Mali, Lassine Kouyate.
“I killed a stray cat that had been hanging around my yard for a few days,” Klein says. “It was an accident. I had a hybrid car that was practically silent when it drove. One morning I pulled out of the driveway, and my wife found it dead on the ground. We figure it had crawled under the car, didn’t hear the engine turn on, and I ran over it. I felt pretty bad about it.”
The ensuing song Klein wrote about the incident and his likely role in the cat’s death, is the title track to his new 3-song EP, Little Tiger, a collection of outtakes to be released on January 22, 2021, from the recording sessions for his 2019 album, Low Flyin’ Planes.
For Low Flyin’ Planes, Klein teamed up with his longtime producer and engineer Bronson Tew at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Mississippi, for their third straight record together (following 2013’s Sky Blue DeVille and 2015’s Archer’s Arrow). It’s a strong partnership that continues to bear fruit. Says Klein, “He’s a close friend and a genius engineer and producer whose role in shaping the sounds and textures of these records and bringing my songs to life can’t be overstated.’You set them up; I’ll knock them down, he’s said about our musical partnership. And it’s true- these albums are just as much his handiwork as they are mine.”
Klein considers Low Flyin’ Planes to be the sonic follow-up to Sky Blue DeVille, and to that end, the record features sometimes Wild Fires guitarist Crash Cason and former Wild Fire Tew on drums, guitar, and harmony vocals. The sound is capably filled out with Matt Patton (Drive-By Truckers) and Stuart Cole (ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers) on bass, Eric Carlton (Jimbo Mathus) on keys, Kell Kellum (Young Valley) on pedal steel and guitars, Will McCarley (Fat Possum Records) on drums, Hank West (Squirrel Nut Zippers) on sax and trumpet, Schaefer Llana and Anne Freeman on harmony vocals, and other ace players from the Oxford, MS, scene. The result is a strong, sincere collection of folk-rock songs featuring Klein’s signature warm vocals colored by a lush, textured sound. The songs on Little Tiger were recorded at Dial Back Sound, and produced, mixed, and mastered by Tew at Sleepers Mountain in Portland, Oregon.
Both “Little Tiger” and “Take It (On Faith)” were recorded during the LFP sessions. The band stretches out on the latter, this collection’s closing number, an energetic song with sweeping harmony vocals which straddles the line of serious and playful as Klein details hopeful and alarming visions alike of a possible individual and collective future. Written in 2015, the song seems to portend the current state of national affairs (“I take it that all this hatred / I take it that all this strife / is gonna get worked out one day / on a field with guns and knives / I take it on faith”), while noting the cyclical nature of things — that which has been will once again come to pass (“I take it that it’s all been said and done and done and said before / writ upon the rocks and sand and the ice and dirt and the ocean floor / I take it on faith”). Ultimately, as is usually the case in Klein’s songs, the listener is left with a feeling of hope, as he declares: “I take it that goodness and graciousness are gonna have the final say.”
“It’s just a straightforward three-chord song,” says Klein, “and you sure can have a good time with that. That may have been the first song we recorded, and I’m pretty sure it was the first take. Great, raw energy. We played it one more time, but quickly realized we caught it right out of the gate.”
“Little Tiger”, although shelved from the original album, stood out as the favorite track among many of the players on the session, and was rounded out by mellotron compliments of Jay Gonzalez (Drive-By Truckers). “I’ve always sequenced my albums, but this time Bronson recommended we let Patton do it for LFP,” says Klein. “That’s one of his favorite parts of the album creation process, and I definitely trust his instincts and thought it’d be neat to see what he came up with. He drove around with it in his car for a few weeks and sent in a track order that he couldn’t see going any other way. It didn’t include “Little Tiger” or “Take It (On Faith)”, but I think it was a fitting sequence and the 10-song album was already a 45-minute or so listen.”
The EP kicks off with “Halfway to Heaven”, a song intended for inclusion on LFP but which wasn’t recorded during the album sessions. “It was always a key song for me from the collection, and a companion piece to the title track,” Klein offers. “I thought we’d just put it on the opposite side of the record from the song “Low Flyin’ Planes”, but given its similarities in terms of the tuning, the sound, and even the progression, we decided to no even record it at the time and kick it down the road a bit.”
Recorded on a subsequent visit to Dial Back Sound and to the Mississippi Delta, “Halfway to Heaven” features Klein on acoustic guitar and vocals, Tew on acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, and harmony vocals, and Gonzalez on Wurlitzer. The song directly expresses the main themes and questions of Low Flyin’ Planes. “I had been playing music, traveling a lot, and was generally trying to find my footing,” Klein recalls. “I hit the point where I faced a fundamental question— do I keep pursuing music, solely, risking the end of a long-term relationship, perhaps failing to develop myself more broadly, and likely remaining financially unstable, or do I settle in a bit too domestic life, strengthen my relationship with my then-girlfriend (now wife), and keep tinkering away at creative works in music and other areas? I chose what felt like a more stable footing. We now have a young daughter and it’s been fulfilling in a lot of ways. I may not be as hungry and endlessly hustling, but the creative well is far from dry, and I expect to always be plugging away at songwriting, other writings, performing, and acting.”
It feels a bit strange, Klein notes, to release these songs amidst the tumult and political backdrop of this period of time, but the downtime of quarantine and the pandemic seemed like the right time to clear the deck of this material and close out the Low Flyin’ Planes cycle. “I worried momentarily that it’s somewhat tone-deaf to release songs right now that make no reference to racial inequities, the increasing division in our country, the suffering amidst coronavirus, and the great reckoning of 2020,” he says. “But people need music and art now. We all need something to move us, uplift us, and to commune with the ineffable power of music and song.”
And as far as material more suited to the times, Klein’s been busy at work. “I’ve written a lot since the killing of George Floyd and recorded an album this past summer grappling with this moment of American history, our past, and our iniquities. The songs are in production as we speak, and will hopefully get out there as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, though, Klein offers this Little Tiger EP, which has the signature, evocative production of his records made with Tew, the talents of all the excellent players who graced the songs, and a heartfelt journey through an empathetic life seeking stories, fulfillment, aliveness, and awe, accompanied by a soundtrack of folk-rock n’ roll.
Klein’s music has garnered praise from Paste, No Depression, Georgia Music, Sing Out!, Flagpole, Stomp & Stammer, Maverick, and Connect Savannah Magazines, as well as on numerous Americana blogs worldwide (Americana UK, Roots Highway, CtrlAltCountry, etc.). His second and third releases, Wounded Electric Youth and Western Tales & Trails, debuted on the Euro Americana charts at #5 and #4, respectively. Klein has performed throughout the U.S., toured in the UK, Ireland, and The Netherlands, and been a showcasing artist at Folk Alliance. He has shared the stage with a diverse range of acts including Josh Ritter, Kevin Kinney, James McMurtry, Okkervil River, Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck, Shawn Mullins, Jim Lauderdale, Robert Ellis, Steep Canyon Rangers, Shovels & Rope, and more.
Klein’s records have featured a who’s-who of talented musicians from Athens and beyond, including producer, engineer, drummer, and vocalist Bronson Tew, Randall Bramblett, pedal steel maestro John Neff, David Blackmon (Widespread Panic, Jerry Reed), Lera Lynn, and Carlton Owens (Cracker).
In 2012 Klein released his first ‘world music’ record, the original Malian Mande collection Dugu Wolo. An associated making-of-the-record documentary film is in the works. Klein is the founder of upstart independent label Cowboy Angel Music and co-founder of the Athens Americana Music Festival in Athens, Georgia, held annually from 2007- 2012. He currently hosts the quarterly African Sky Podcast, discussing issues of Malian history, culture, and development with a variety of guests.
Also, a represented Atlanta-based actor, Klein’s roles have included Amazon’s “Z: The Beginning of Everything” as well as various commercials and indie film projects. He can be seen performing his unreleased song, “Goin’ Down to Peachtree”, in the award-winning independent film Born River Bye.