Roy Orbison would have loved the music of Jack Klatt. The same passionate yearning that gave “Only the Lonely” and “Crying” such deep resonance infuses the excellent third album by this big-hearted Twin Cities native. It’s not hard to imagine Orbison turning in his usual dramatic tour de force on the tender Klatt originals “I’ll Never Let You Down” and “Ramblin’ Kind,” transforming these sturdy tunes into soaring pop opera.
The down-to-earth Klatt doesn’t have the same magnificent voice as Orbison — who does? — but his earnest, unhurried crooning brings a warm glow to the unpretentious It Ain’t the Same. After the spare folk and country-blues settings of his first two outings, this inviting album feels like going from stark black-and-white to vivid color. Backed by a nimble band featuring virtuoso John James Tourville of The Deslondes on lead guitar, steel and mandolin, Klatt tackles sultry shuffles, rockabilly-tinged toe-tappers, and hushed ballads, revealing a confident poise he kept under wraps before.
Klatt’s best songs boast an almost visceral immediacy, as if created on the spot to capture memorable moments. Fueled by obsessive desire (“Your touch is all I crave”), the twangy “Highway Lines” chronicles an all-night trip home. Sleepy and smooth, “Tomorrow” celebrates the fine art of living for now, which might entail jumping in a river just for fun. “Looking for Love” gently observes, “Everybody’s looking for love … Open up your heart and let it bind you,” while the jaunty come-on “Prove My Love” has the snap and bounce of a Buddy Holly classic.
A generosity of spirit informs It Ain’t the Same, not just in the easy grace of the songs, but also in the way Klatt gives space to his fellow players, who fashion relaxed yet efficient grooves to keep things moving. Tourville is a strong partner, adding tangy fills and occasionally threatening to steal the show with a hot solo, as heard on the peppy “Tinted in Blue.” He also composed the moving ode to a lost friend that serves as the album’s somber title track, underscoring Klatt’s willingness to share the spotlight.
It Ain’t the Same really isn’t the same as Jack Klatt’s previous work — it’s better. For all the obvious craft on display, it suggests time spent with someone who’s sincere and kind, not glib or calculating. We could all use such a friend.