Biography

“Oh I’ve known the power and her lonesome whistle’s glory / our story’s yet to unfold / 

Delicate flower bending and broken and bowed / in need of tending, in need of sunlight / 

of water from a cool mountain stream / of a new American dream”

With these poetic, longing words, singer-songwriter Adam Klein offers a hymn to the promise of America and closes out his powerful new record, Holidays in United Statesout April 7, 2023 on Klein’s Cowboy Angel Music.

The path to these lines is paved with themes which many artists have explored amidst the chaos of these most intense past few years— tragedy, disillusionment, an unparalleled global pandemic, societal divisions, and the like. Yet the strength of songwriting, lyrical detail, humanity, vulnerability, and lush production serve to confirm Klein’s reputation as a songwriter to be reckoned with. 

Underpinning the serious concerns of the material, though, we find a touch of levity, as the origin story for Holidays is rather prosaic. “The title probably came to mind seven or eight years ago. My email starts with an “h”, and whenever I would email something to myself on my phone, as I started typing my address it would auto-fill with “Holidays in United States”. I thought that was pretty weird, and for no good reason, after seeing this over and over, I decided it would be the name for an album. So all roads lead back to the ubiquitous iPhone, I suppose.”

Name in hand and absurd origins aside, Klein realized early on that the tongue-in-cheek title was asking for songs which could serve as a commentary on American life and society.

“I wrote a song early on that never felt right— either too overt or non-poetic— which dealt with gun violence in the wake of the shooting of Laquan McDonald by police in 2014. And though it didn’t take, it set my radar to be attuned to such issues for this collection of songs,” he recalls. Klein had drafts of “Blood on My Hands”, “Wait til They Come Knockin’”, and “When Will We Go Marching?” as far back as 2015. He tinkered with these ideas, never felt they were finished, and set them aside. 

Fast forward to the historic late spring and summer of 2020. The 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. George Floyd. Social protests amidst a newly emerged global pandemic. All the while, Klein was settling into a new home with his wife and daughter. 

“It was a strange time,” he notes. “On the one hand, COVID was ravaging the world and our country, we were engaging in an overdue racial reckoning and jolted into registering, at long last, how far we still have to go to achieve social and racial equity in the U.S., all the while living in a highly polarized time. On the other hand I was enjoying an idyllic time with my family in our new home, taking walks in the neighborhood and local parks, and far removed from the anguish and grief inflicted by the virus.”

Essentially in quarantine and concerned with the need to protect the health of his family, Klein watched the coverage of the protests and the watershed moment unfold on the news. Compelled to speak out and participate in the movement for racial justice, he thought again of the unfinished songs dealing with these ever-present issues of racial inequities, gun violence, and more, and determined to complete the task. 

Finding a burst of inspiration between his full time work and dedication to family life, he began writing new material to sit alongside these earlier drafts. And there were other unfinished songs, too, which didn’t address social issues, but which, he realized, sat alongside the newer ones as stories of hurting and unfulfilled American lives.

In a four-day Covid-friendly recording session helmed by producer and Grammy-nominated engineer Will Robertson at his Gallop Studios in Atlanta, Klein, Robertson (bass), and bandmates Bret Hartley (electric and lap steel guitars) and Colin Agnew (drums), knocked out fourteen songs, each musician isolated in his own section of the studio.  

The material was then sent to Klein’s longtime collaborator and producer Bronson Tew of Dial Back Sound for post-production. Tew further built the songs with the signature, lush soundscapes    he has brought to Klein’s work over the course of their now four album partnership (2013’s Sky Blue DeVille, 2015’s Archer’s Arrow, 2019’s Low Flyin’ Planes). With contributions from Jay Gonzalez (Drive-By Truckers) on keys, Jamison Hollister (Dwight Yoakam) on pedal steel, Tew on electric guitars and harmony vocals, and Schaefer Llana (Jimbo Mathus; Squirrel Nut Zippers) and Spencer Thomas (Futurebirds) on harmony vocals, the songs began taking new, dynamic shape.

Klein later travelled to Dial Back in Water Valley, MS, to re-record the sprawling “I-20” and a newly-penned number, “People Are Callin’”, with Tew on drums, Matt Patton (Drive-By Truckers) on bass, and Llana on Wurlitzer and harmony vocals. “I knew Bronson and Matt would be perfect for “People Are Callin’”, Klein says. “It needed a soulful, Muscle Shoals R&B groove, and that’s definitely in their wheelhouse.”   

Overall, Tew’s production pushes the sonic boundaries of Klein’s folk and Americana catalogue, resulting in an album of significant breadth. From the fuzzed-out low end and arena rock sound of “Blood on My Hands”, the Smith’s-like tones of “Wait til They Come Knockin’”, the stately and rustic Harvest Moon-esque “Old Gold” to the lap steel-driven mid-tempo “When Will We Go Marching?” and the elegiac closer, “Bright Rails Shine”, with Gonzalez’s spacey, carnivalesque organ, Holidays takes listeners on an expansive sonic journey across multiple styles.

His first overtly socio-political collection to be released, the songs’ commentary take the state of American society to task in certain regards, holding only a few punches. Yet feelings of heartbreak and devastation are tempered by signs of hope and promise. 

In the instant classic opener “Blood on My Hands”, the narrator wonders about personal and collective responsibility and complicity when it comes to racial injustice, offering a range of perspectives from the well-intentioned (“I didn’t think I was blind / I loved all mankind”), to deflection (“I was a thousand miles away / I didn’t care, I didn’t know / somebody else should’ve stopped the blow”) to the stone cold (“shake down somebody else to help / it’s just the way that the cards were dealt / shouldn’t come as no surprise”). The chorus, though, finds Klein recognizing our common humanity and leaning in to the fight: “I’m learning how to love for the very first time / Now I can see your destiny’s wrapped in mine / the fog is liftin’ I can see the shore / finally found something worth fighting for”. 

“Wait til They Come Knockin’” addresses the stacked deck of the American justice system (“Justice is just a word that lives in a smoky back room where you don’t wanna take the heat”) with a reference to Dylan’s “Desolation Row”: “They’re selling postcards of the hanging / at every county fair / fibers of whip and rope upon the floor where the beauty pageant girls twirl every perfect strand of hair”, Klein sings, reminding us that the shadows of our past remain closer than we may imagine. 

In another nod to one of his musical heroes and the tradition of protest in folk song, listeners may recognize two references to Neil Young’s “Ohio” on Holidays. “Ohio: Revisited” memorializes the fateful day (“She wore flowers on her jeans/ felt concrete against her knees / the whole world heard her screams / then licked a soft ice cream / chocolate sprinkles on the cone”) ending a series of stanzas with Young’s refrain “four dead in Ohio”.  And further connecting the song with the Civil Rights era, the chorus asks: “Are we back in Money, Mississippi? Did we ever go? Now we kill ’em with the boot and the knee / How did we get so low?”

The other instance may be found in the epic number “I-20”, a conversation between a father and daughter on the way to a protest for racial justice. There, Klein alludes to Young’s opening line (“Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming”) in the chorus. Klein details the song’s origins: 

“I was driving to a protest in downtown Atlanta in June of 2020. I had been refraining from being amongst crowds due to COVID, but I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. The import of the moment affected me— the power of using my voice, my body, joining with thousands in this march and across the nation to rise up and demand that we do better as a collective society. I had seen how some white marchers had been thrust to the front lines, so to speak, to serve as protectors for their fellow protestors of color. I wondered how I’d respond if it came to that. Did standing in solidarity require sacrifice of body, to take rubber bullets or tear gas on behalf of others? Could I march along, maintain social distancing, and still stand the movement? Was maintaining my health and avoiding possible arrest and incarceration for the sake of my family a fair justification to march on the margins or at the back of the crowd? I felt tense and a bit nervous, with a solid dose of adrenaline, and the opening words and melody emerged all at once. And in this case, they were the very thing I was doing in that moment: “I’m ridin’ on I-20 / headin’ west into Atlanta / ain’t no tellin’ what today may bring”.

“I-20″ culminates in a moving tribute to the countless people of color killed by police violence or racially motivated crimes, lifted by Gonzalez’s organ, guitars from Hartley and Tew, and harmony vocals from powerhouse Nashville vocal trio and songwriters Kyshona Armstrong, Nickie Conley, and Maureen Murphy. 

The album concludes with a reflection on the myths and lore of America, in the yearning and hopeful tones of “Bright Rails Shine”, a mystique-filled travelogue upon the rails of the varied vastness of this great land.  

Klein’s literate songwriting and active years of touring pre-pandemic and fatherhood have earned accolades from Americana and folks press, multiple albums on the Euro Americana chart, an official performance at Folk Alliance, and shared stages with a long list of revered songwriters and bands including James McMurtry, Josh Ritter, Steep Canyon Rangers, Shovels & Rope, Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck, Okkervil River, 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, producer David BarbeRandall Bramblett, pedal steel maestro John Neff, David Blackmon (Widespread Panic, Jerry Reed), Lera Lynn, and Carlton Owens (Cracker).

Buoyed by a successful crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo, this long anticipated album has seen its share of delays, but will finally have its opportunity to serve as a document of these historic times. “These issues may not dominate the news cycle at the moment, but they will continue to rear their head as long as we remain isolated in our silos and fail to recognize that America achieves its potential only when all people are welcome to thrive here and contribute to a healthy, diverse society,” notes Klein.

Consisting initially of a double album of material, Klein culled it down to a tight, focused eight songs which clock in as a powerful full-length record filled with some of the veteran songwriter’s most astute and moving lyrics to date.

“There’s a great Leonard Cohen quote about his song ‘Democracy’”, Klein says, “in which he said, in part, ‘I didn’t want to start a fight in the song. I wanted a revelation in the heart’. I love that idea. Cohen sought to transcend self and identity to speak for all humankind. This album may be more heavy-handed at times, but the sentiments are sincere. These are intense times, and while I’m as exasperated as anyone by the madness of the age, I’m trying to be a force for good, or at least somehow useful. I don’t know that this album will elicit a revelation of the heart, but through it, my heart is revealed, and I send it out with the hope that it may inspire not anger or despair, but a desire to work for a better, more just society.”

One thought on “Biography”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *