Album Review of Greg Klyma: Never Knew Caroline
I first ran across Greg Klyma when I caught the end of his set at Arlington Porchfest this spring. I only heard the final song of his set, but I did hear enough to mention him ever-so-briefly my review of the event (see the Samantha Farrell section of the review), and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to write this review of his new CD as I’ve worked through my backlogged review queue.
Officially released on August 13th, this disc showcases Greg as a true Americana original. Delivering a comfortable mix of music primarily spanning country, folk, and subgenres in-between, Never Knew Caroline is a strong introduction to this singer’s versatility.
Musically, Greg seems like a bit of an outlaw. There are parts of the songs’ attitudes that suggest Johnny Cash, but only hints, as that’s maybe too much outlaw by comparison. He’s probably more like Kenny Rogers wrapped in the vocal stylings of Willie Nelson. Indeed, on many of these songs, though I wouldn’t say Greg sounds like the Red Headed Stranger, his voice exhibits a Willie-esque nasal vocal twang. The other thing Greg has in common with these artists – and the thing that ties him to many folk musicians, too – is that so many of his songs sound like stories. Most of them are, in fact, storytelling songs, but even where that connection is weaker, the tone of his voice suggests you need to pay attention or you’ll miss an important detail. The result is an effective, engaging song delivery.
Greg kicks the record off with its title track, “Never Knew Caroline.” It’s a melancholy, folky number with a slow pace Greg exploits to drive home a deep internal sadness via his emotional voice, helped along by well-placed harmonica wails.
The first track is an excellent representation of this disc, but the biggest potential hit is a more country number later in the album, the energetically twangy singalong “Ex-Girlfriends Cost Less Money Than Ex-Wives.” I can almost hear Toby Keith singing it, in which case it would be a massive country radio hit, but Greg’s true blue country spin is perfect for this song. In fact, if I were a radio programmer, I wouldn’t hesitate to place this song in heavy rotation, regardless of what the national media was doing. This will quickly become a local favorite; it’s already cause for a singalong every time through the CD during my commute. There’s an almost Georgia Satellites-esque, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” vibe to the music, though this is clearly on the country music side of the Southern country/rock border.
The album is filled with several additional worth-mentioning tracks that stand out for different reasons.
Homage to a musical great and to his effect on his legion of fans are part of “Kristofferson,” an old-school, swaying crooner Greg delivers with skillful precision.
“Lonesome” has an eerie, deserted, wide-open-spaces feeling to it. The background instruments echo as if across emptiness, resulting in an intimate-feeling, emotionally powerful number that seems suited to be sung beside a campfire in a western desert, not so much during a cattle drive as perhaps by an outlaw on the run.
Perhaps the purest folk song in this collection is “My Old Guitar,” the final track on the disc, a love sonnet to an instrument in a slowly-strummed number on which wistful voice-cracking and short waterfall-like guitar mini-runs serve as the most obvious folk musician’s tricks.
And lest you think Greg’s influences are solely country, folk, and various Americana-spectrum subgenres, “All the Other Bridges” could almost be a Dire Straits song, so there are clearly other influences at play. It’s a combination of meandering, off-melody lead guitar line and Hammond organ that create that unique classic rock feel, though Greg’s vocal delivery has a hint of Mark Knopfler in it during this song, too, in places. As unique as it sounds, the tone blends neatly into the surrounding songs on the album. It’s a neat trick and great treat every time through the back half of the disc.
It’s fitting emphasis that Never Knew Caroline is an album on which Greg Klyma calls upon a variety of influences. In the end, it all sounds like Greg Klyma music – he has a cohesive sound and an unmistakable voice – but the album sports enough variety to remain interesting across multiple, frequent listens.
Greg has a few upcoming gigs on the “shows” page of his website. He’ll be performing at Thunder Road in Somerville, MA on September 17th and 24th and October 1st; in Buffalo, NY on September 23rd; at PK’s Public House in Bellows Falls, VT on October 6th; at Vincent’s in Worcester, MA on October 7th (and again on November 4th); at The Ale House in Troy, NY on October 8th; and in Maplewood, MO (near St. Louis) on October 27th. Check out his website for details and for additional dates as they’re added.
I also see a September 28th gig listed on the Chopps American Bar & Grill website in Burlington, MA. Chopps, which is in the Marriott in Burlington, is a venue with an early start time (7:00 pm), so you’ve seen me review a couple of the area’s other top artists at that location.