by Nathan Cardiff
I had the pleasure of meeting Justin Klaas this past summer while he was playing a short, intimate set of songs. The temperature was about 130 degrees outside (if I remember correctly), but I got chills listening to him play.
Instantly he became one of my favorite singer/songwriters. His music fit into my summer routine and where my life was at the time (I’ll spare you the personal drama). Klaas played four songs that day, each filled with a quiet intensity. His voice was smooth and pleasing, but it had a hint of grit with it. That describes his entire musical style; pleasing to the ear and with the first listen, you notice the obvious beauty in his playing and singing. But when you really hear what he’s saying and notice the way he punctuates and strikes with certain lyrics, he gives the songs an equally beautiful emotion to match the music. There’s more here than just a nice sound. It was a long 3 months before I saw him play live again, but I was relieved when I discovered that even with the changing seasons, Justin Klaas remained a man that was creating music without fear.
Odds and Ends is a terrific collection of material that has been recorded over the past three years. Klaas was gracious enough to send me dates to accompany the songs, but I preferred listening to the songs without a timeline. Instead of trying to notice a progression in his songwriting and music, I just listened to the EP as a snapshot of different periods in his life. Even with the gaps in time, Odds and Ends has a cohesiveness; it flows together beautifully.
Klaas reminds me of Kevin Devine and Sufjan Stevens; the man is incredible with just his voice and a guitar, but I also love hearing what he does with supporting instruments and experimenting with sounds that weren’t a part of the live performances that I saw (“Grow With Me (Demo)” and “Your Heart Is Pumping An Endless Nothing”). The piano on the track “Ruins” is particularly heartbreaking. “This one surely ain’t like the others/She will gladly stand by me/I will surely lose my patience/Create distance in between” he sings on “I’ll Run.”
Klaas isn’t afraid of being honest with his audience. He’s got folky roots (“It Is Dark” and “Patience”), but I can’t label him as strictly folk. Klaas is a heck of a composer and his process is never careless; he is unique and Odds and Ends shows us why. The EP (which has 16 tracks!) features demos, unreleased material, alternate takes, and improvisations. The unpolished versions of certain songs just amplify his style; beautiful, but gritty.
Klaas’ voice is remarkable and his harmonies stretch across tracks like “The Water Sweeps Us Away” and “I’ll Run.” Odds and Ends is a great way to become familiar with Klaas’ music. He’s also released the excellent A Heartless Home EP and a single (“Winter Nights”) this year, which should be listened to immediately. But this album not only showcases what makes Klaas a treasure, it provides a comfort. Whether it’s the warmth of the songs or fearlessness in Klaas’ voice, that comfort can be felt all the way through to your bones.
by Nathan Cardiff
Favorite Tracks: “It Is Dark,” “Grow With Me (Demo),” “I’ll Run”