Adam Klein – Holidays in United States
Much of the music being released now has its roots in the COVID 19 pandemic and quarantine. For many artists, it was a time of introspection and self-reflection, and the music often reflects an inner journey. Georgia-based singer/songwriter Adam Klein has gone the opposite way – his new album, Holidays in United States, is a true call to arms.
Holidays in United States is a record with a clear and explicit point of view. That view is best laid out in the epic (seven-minute) “I-20.” Using a trip with his young daughter to a racial justice protest in Atlanta on that major Southern highway (running from Texas to South Carolina, and passing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia), as a point of departure, Klein offers a stark but accurate assessment of the United States in the early 2020’s. With a ringing refrain of “ call out their names,” the song ends with a seemingly inexhaustible list of people of color killed by police or in racially motivated crimes.
Like “I-20,” most of Holidays in United States addresses serious topics. But it never feels grim. Perhaps because Klein’s voice is the musical center of the album. It’s gentle timbre, played against the often-hard hitting lyrics, is moving and effective. Bronson Tew, a regular Klein collaborator, produced and engineered the album (in addition to mixing and mastering it!); he gets a sound that is at once unique and familiar, vibrant and warm.
The sonic landscape of Holidays in United States is rich and varied; if your idea of protest music is one person with a guitar, you will be in for a welcome surprise. Klein’s outstanding band – Colin Agnew on drums, Ben Hartley on guitars, and Will Robertson on bass – makes every song distinctive and interesting. Hartley’s steel guitar playing is a particular treat.
Klein’s previous seven albums mostly mined traditional singer/songwriter topics. Holidays in United States is his first overtly socio-political effort. Klein explicitly nods to Bob Dylan (quoting a lyric from “Desolation Row”) and Neil Young (whose “Ohio,” is referenced in two songs here), and clearly sees himself as part of a tradition of protest singers.
Holidays in United States is not always an easy listen; truth telling rarely is. As Klein himself has said, “This album may be heavy-handed at times, but the sentiments are sincere. These are intense times, and while I’m as exasperated as anyone by the madness of the age, I’m trying to be a force for good, or at least somehow useful.”
The album ends with a remarkable song, “Bright Rails Shine,” which Klein has, absolutely accurately, called “a hymn to the promise of America.” When Klein sings
Oh I’ve known the power and her lonesome whistle’s glory
our story yet to unfold
delicate flower bending and broken and bowed
in need of tending, in need of sunlight
water from a cool mountain stream
of a new American dream
he not only connects himself to the generations of American songwriters who found a muse on the railroad tracks, but he offers us a truly hopeful vision of the future at a time when the present feels overwhelming. It is the perfect song on which to end the album, highlighting Klein’s enduring optimism and offering hope for all those who seek to tend the delicate flowers that, when unfolded, reflect the best of our nation.
Holidays in the United States is available on Klein’s website, and wherever else music is bought, downloaded or streamed.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Song Premiere: Adam Klein “Wait Til They Come Knockin”
Mark Pelavin is a writer, consultant and music lover living, very happily, in St. Michaels, MD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org