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What’s a nice boy like Jeff Klein doing on the Lower East Side, doling out bruised rock anthems instead of taking up a nice, steady dental practice? Instead of being corrupted by cigarettes and whiskey, and transforming himself into one of the most accomplished purveyors of urban Americana, Klein could have maybe put down the guitar and pursued the rabbinical study. But after years of going it alone with critically acclaimed solo albums and working with fellow tarnished souls like Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, Klein is finally making up for whatever heartbreak he’s caused his family by revisiting the Holy Land of My Jerusalem—though as the possessive indicates, it’s still on his own terms. Hey, it could have been worse, Papa Klein. He could have been Philip Roth, and spent 40 years writing about his penis.
Instead here’s Klein, another nighthawk at the diner, dispensing sobering observations in his smoke-curled voice, and backed by a choir of similarly ragged angels on the group’s debut, Gone For Good. Bassist and vocalist Ashley Dzerigian (formerly of Great Northern) provides the tender counterpoint to wounded, Raymond Carver-in-miniature relationship stories like “Love When You Leave.” That drama is teased out in the burnished brass of trumpet player Matt Bricker (The Polyphonic Spree) and trombonist Jon Merz, who can shift the mood from the Mariachi kicks of “Remember Everything” to the Bacharach/Brill Building builds of “Sweet Chariot.” And keyboardist Evan Jacobs layers in the atmospheres and tugs at the heartstrings while drummer Kevin Bybee keeps the rolling, rhythmic pulse. Indeed, it’s probably way too many people to make a sound this lonesome.
But maybe that’s because, despite all the attendant expectations when you start throwing around the words “Americana,” “cigarettes and whiskey,” and other mainstays from the singer-songwriter thesaurus, Gone For Good refuses to stay on its barstool and cry into its beer like it’s supposed to. Even Klein’s voice never settles down, sliding from a seductive, Southern Gothic croon to a spooky subway rattle to an anguished scream, while the music similarly jumps from stately indie-rock reminiscent of The National to fringe dwellers like the anthemic, self-described “ABBA on ecstasy” swells of “Sleepwalking” and the Tom Waits-fronting-Franz Ferdinand angry dance party of “Bury It Low.” It’s a formula as patchwork as the duct-taped equipment the band used to put it together, and as geographically jumbled as the collection of New York, Los Angeles, and Austin musicians who crammed into a pair of New Orleans French Quarter apartments to get it all on record.
The one consistency is Gone For Good’s worldview, a relatable message of hope in hard times that’s underscored music from the earliest blues to Bruce Springsteen, from Stax soul to Bob Seger if he wasn’t so hung up on high school—hell, from caveman campfires to the Arcade Fire. It’s why both the album and the band have caught the attention of both NPR (“a beautiful orchestral pop record”) and the BBC, and received glowing reviews from the likes of musicOMH (“a sensational opus”) and This Is Fake DIY (“a head-turning debut”). They may not have wandered the desert to get there, but My Jerusalem offers its own sort of recognizable salvation—one that also allows a stiff drink or two.