Every picture tells a story, so the adage goes. If that’s true, you can guess the story just by one glance at the sleeve of The Hustler.
A handsomely disheveled Jeff Klein is pictured reclining on a leather sofa, with a glass of whiskey and a cigarette, looking away moodily from a bored looking woman to his right. You’re thinking…tough guy, with a hint of vulnerability, deep, rough voice, songs of love gone wrong and messed up relationships…
It’s no surprise to see the name of Greg Dulli as co-producer here. Dulli was the leader of Afghan Whigs, one of the best of the post-Nirvana bands and his influence is written deep here, amongst the deep, dark blues that Klein performs.
Dulli’s not the only famous name – Soul Asylum‘s Dave Pirner contributes vocals on Suzanne, The Red Lantern and Stripped, and Ani DiFranco has a spine-tingling guest spot on the beautiful, minimal sound of Pity, as well as contributing backing vocals to two other tracks on the album.
Klein never lets himself by overwhelmed by the guest stars though – this is his album all the way. His rich, deep voice dominates the record, sounding nigh on perfect for a rock star, although it’s worrying to imagine exactly how many full-strength cigarettes Klein must smoke to get that rasp…
The opening title track, with its gently plucked acoustic and evocative slide guitar, is languid and slightly sleazy, and there’s an air of eroticism hanging heavy – helped by Klein intoning lyrics such as “she’s shaking her hips and she’s promising she’ll make me come…so I come”.
A more commercial edge is found on Suzanne, which has a cracking guitar riff that somehow recalls The Faces‘ heyday, while The Red Lantern brings back memories of Dulli’s finest hour, the Gentleman album. The best tracks are the slower ones though, where Klein displays his softer side – All I Want being particularly stunning.
There’s a definite dark edge to Klein’s music that may not be too all tastes. Stripped appears to chart the disintegration of a relationship beset by jealously (“you keep your diary locked away, I know I look for it every day”), the edgy Pity sees Klein begging his partner not to leave him before desperately asking “how about another pity fuck before you fall asleep” and Put You To Sleep broods a palpable air of menace while Klein berates himself for his own shortcomings (“I used to be so entertaining I could sweep you off your feet…now it seems these days all I can do is put you to sleep”).
Sometimes it all becomes a bit depressing, as on the rather dirge-like Nearly Motionless and the closing Nobody’s Favourite Girl, yet the great moments on here far outweigh the less favourable. Don’t be put off by the fact that Jeff Klein appears to be yet another miserabilist US alt-country songwriter – there’s a lot more to him than that, and The Hustler deserves to catapult the Texan-based singer into the stratosphere.