I just turned in a review claiming that adding extra dynamics to a genre-specific album can broaden its appeal. Strawberry Lover makes me eat my words and, man, they taste mis-directed.
Jess Klein is the sort of ubiquitous alternative singer/songwriter who populated late-‘90s college radio stations. She’s a little bit folk and a little bit rock and roll. She recycles the right chord progressions, pens decent melodies and has a pleasant enough mournful voice. When she keeps to this middle ground, her songs, aside from occasional riff transitions into banality, succeed. When she goes for new country (“Sink My Teeth In”) and the truly unfortunate dub work-out (“Soda Water”) she sounds as if someone’s pushed her into completely uncomfortable musical territory. Redemption comes in the sublime Bruce Springsteen-esque character study “Shonalee,” the title track’s casual lifting of Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” chorus melody and the shuffling beat and soaring vocals of “Shootout at the Candy Shop.” Roots rocking is about keeping it simple and the next time Klien books studio time she’d be best served playing to the genre’s strengths.