Jess Klein’s album “Back to my Green” was released in February 2019, which seems like a really long time ago now. We loved it then and we love it still, which is why we were really pleased when Jess agreed to contribute to our 2019 High Fives feature. Here are some of Jess’s highpoints from 2019. Bit of a spoiler here, the last one might make you think you have something in your eye.


Touring Florida

In January, I went on tour in Florida. I hadn’t toured Florida in a couple years and never outside of Tampa. The venues were all new to me and I had no idea what to expect – would anyone show up? It turned out my friend, the songwriter Grant Peeples (who had also connected me with some of the venues) told a bunch of people to come see me play. John Fullbright, who was touring Florida the prior week, mentioned my name to his audience from the stage and told them that they should come see me. Thanks to one of the promoters, WMNF in Tampa invited me on air twice in one weekend. WSLR in Sarasota pushed my show there. Every show was packed. Those were just gifts my fellow songwriters, the promoters and radio DJ’s decided to give me. They didn’t have to. I came home feeling so blessed. Creative community is powerful.


David Byrne’s American Utopia tour

Seeing David Byrne’s American Utopia tour: a 12-piece band playing and dancing like one rhythmic body, led by lanky, quirky David Byrne. “Burning Down the House”, “Road to Nowhere”, “Once in a Lifetime”…They covered Janelle Monae’s tribute to black lives lost to police brutality, “Hell You Talmbout”.   Byrne and his incredible band created something even bigger than the sum of their parts. My brain was screaming, “Look what humans can do!!!” It felt like the roof was about to blow off.  


First Sunday Revue

My husband, Mike June and I launched the “First Sunday Revue” here in Hillsborough, North Carolina where we live. The first Sunday of each month, we get our band together and play a no-cover afternoon gig at our local, the Nash St. Tavern. Nash St. is on the divier side, the sound is weird, it is not fancy. But I have never felt so loved as I do when we play these shows. People come every month, they bring their friends, they dance (all folksingers know, getting an audience to dance is a rarity). They yelp and cheer for more and leave looking happier than when they came in. We do too.


Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat

In October, I taught at the Song Traveler’s Songwriting Retreat in Nashville. The twelve students and three teachers (Wyatt Easterling, Korby Lenker and I) all stayed in one big country house outside of town. It was 24-7 writers and writing. You literally could not avoid the creativity and inspiration with so much of it flying around. Wyatt, Korby and I co-wrote a song together and it’s pretty damn good. Getting paid to just talk about what I love to do, and to help other songwriters through their processes was like a dream come true for me. I could do that all day every day.


Mike June

A couple weeks ago, I came home after a long, exhausting day. It was part of a long, exhausting week. Mike June sat me down and said, “I wrote a song about you today”. He walked over to the piano and played something so beautiful and simple and loving, all the crap fell away. That’s love. He had also cooked my favorite dinner (roast chicken with potatoes and Brussel sprouts). I was a mushy mess, realizing I have this human being as my partner. Love is everything.

Product DetailsTrumpets (muted and otherwise), trombones, tuba, saxophones; if you can’t stand a brass band then don’t bother entering this experimental space that is the collaboration between the grandaddy of new wave, David Byrne, and super cool new girl Annie Clark aka St Vincent. The majority of the songs here feature either Byrne or St Vincent singing solo, a few are actual duets but almost every second of each track is crammed full with a parping, swelling or squeaking wind instrument sounding off; it’s very much the third, non-credited party here.

David Byrne sounds very much at home in this musical landscape, an artist who has collaborated with many world music artists and has also produces music in his own right that incorporates many eclectic, diverse styles from various cultures (1992’s “Uh-Oh” album for example), not even taking into account Talking Heads. St Vincent makes queasy, dark, melodic indie pop and is a fantastic guitarist. She is an artist that has slowly, over the course of 3 albums, each better than the last, has established herself as a significant new talent, a fascinating artist very much in her prime whose best work is probably yet to come. But it’s actually the horns that tie the 12 tracks here together, providing a constant, nurturing narrative regardless of who takes the lead.

David Byrne sounds very much like David Byrne on the majority of this album, a cerebral, wise but paranoid voice: St Vincent though goes places she hasn’t before with some fascinating results. This is a funky album, it’s politely and quietly funky and never really works up a sweat but play it at home at a decent volume level and you will be inclined to move around a bit, I guarantee. St Vincent, unlike Byrne, has never, ever been funky.  On “Weekend In The Dust”, on which Byrne doesn’t feature, St Vincent’s vocals are soulful and flirtatious and tightly harmonised, with an ‘I don’t get it, I just don’t get it’ refrain sung over chunky horns and a r’n’b beat; it’s not just a curio it’s a success. On “Ice Age”, which is the most typical St Vincent track here, after a sudden key change in the second verse the angular, staccato horns and bass guitar start to lose control around her. She is also responsible for the best song, the languid and glistening, world-weary “Optimist”; a gorgeous, solo performance.

I Should Watch TV” and “Dinner for Two” see David Byrne typically bewildered and unsettled by metropolitan, urbane situations and are both excellent songs with elegant arrangements and crisp execution. Of the actual, proper duets between the two, of which there are actually only a couple (although they co-wrote the whole thing together, music and lyrics) “Lazarus” is a poised, assertive stand-off and makes you wish that there are more equal interactions between the two. The Dapp Kings are featured on the disappointingly flabby “The One Who Broke Your Heart” and why is St Vincent so buried on this track as she also is on the better “I Am An Ape” where she features as back-up singer to Byrne only?  Byrne’s voice dominates these songs entirely and it just feels like such a wasted opportunity.


It takes to time to settle into this odd, self contained album which doesn’t actually feel like a collaborative effort although I’m certain it is in the truest sense. David has his songs and St Vincent has hers and if you’re a fan of either, ideally both, then there is a lot here to recommend.