Singer-songwriter Jess Klein – whom the New York Times calls "a songwriter with a voice of unblinking tenacity" – has always used music to dream her way forward. Over multiple decades and 11 albums, Klein has pursued a creative evolution that has seen her delve into her own empowerment for emotional insights, while continuing to refine her eloquently melodic, effortlessly accessible song–craft.
The Bluegrass Situation hails her work as “one part grassroots social activism, two parts alt-country guitar rock — a combo we can certainly get behind.” Klein's new album, When We Rise, harnesses this potent combination with themes of empowerment and the joy of overcoming set to a dynamic and deeply introspective roots-inflected soundtrack.
In 2020 when she found herself suddenly cut off and passing the hours with images of BLM protests, women’s marches, unrest, and uncertainty moving through her mind, Klein, like many people, was left grappling with powerful emotions. As she witnessed activists displaying ultimate courage on her TV screen and drew inspiration from artist-activists like Adrienne Maree Brown, Alok Vaid Menon, Beyonce, Lizzo and Allison Russell, Klein picked up her pen.
It’s a tool she’s always used to imagine a better world and carve out her own path through word and song. Klein’s artistic pursuits have taken the Rochester, NY native all the way from Kingston, Jamaica to Austin, TX, where she immersed herself in the vibrant music culture before settling with her husband (songwriter Mike June) in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Klein’s critically acclaimed albums, which mark the new musical frontiers she explored throughout those years, include Wishes Well Disguised (1998), Draw Them Near (2000), Strawberry Lover (2005), City Garden (2006), Bound to Love (2009), Behind A Veil (2012), Learning Faith (2014), 2015’s Bootleg, recorded live with some of Austin’s top players, and Back to My Green (2019)
As she put out new music, Klein performed across the world, including at the Newport Folk Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and sold-out shows in renowned listening rooms like Joe’s Pub, NYC, The Borderline in London, Club Passim in Boston and Fogartyville in Sarasota, FL. She has appeared on Good Morning America and NPR’s All Things Considered and toured across the US, Europe and Japan solo and with such artists as Arlo Guthrie, John Fullbright and Carlene Carter.
After all those years of music and kinship, Klein instinctively knew forward motion would come through music once again. A longing to break through the seclusion and reconnect with her musical family inspired Klein to reach out to her longtime friend and producer from Austin, TX, Mark Addison. The two worked together via Zoom for a year to co-write and arrange a new album.
Slowly, When We Rise took shape.
Never Gonna Break Me, the anthemic first single finds Klein looking back at her teenage self to offer words of strength and encouragement during a period of adversity and slut-shaming. As a seasoned female artist, her years of wisdom and experience resonate to empower all young women to buck off oppression and never back down.
Klein also found threads of vulnerability weaving their way into the record. She wrote the spacious and heartfelt Safe Harbor about wanting to feel safe in a world that feels increasingly shaky. With a melody that lets her powerful mezzo-soprano shake the rafters, Klein demonstrates the ultimate strength that lies in being vulnerable.
The rollicking sing-along Annie’s Place is a tribute to a dysfunctional but lovable artists’ community Klein lived with in Austin, and recaptures the vibe of friends sitting around, playing music, and just letting loose.
Other tunes like Overcome express the raw anger and frustration of a world gone wrong and the desire to tap into a well of personal and collective strength we may not have known we had.
“It took everything I had to create this album in a period of such isolation,” says Klein. “I had to really lean into my hope and my faith that if I tried to put something beautiful and positive and uplifting out there – if I spent the time, money and energy to create this – it would connect me to people. It would resonate with them. It would empower them to do the same in their lives, and to look at the world and find the hope and the commonalities we all share.”
For Klein, songwriting is a problem-solving process: writing it out to ask questions and get answers, not only for herself, but for others who are struggling. As the world emerges into a place where many people are still struggling to express their feelings about where we’ve been and where we’re headed, When We Rise provides a much-needed outlet…and empowers us to keep moving forward.