The gods of the mail smiled on me today: I received a small package from Buffalo, NY. I opened it to find the new CD by my good friend Greg Klyma, Rust Belt Vagabond. Pulling it from the envelope, I felt instantly I was in for a treat: The hauntingly beautiful cover image – a snow-dusted, lonely, winding road lit ethereally in red – indicates precisely the mood and depth of the ten songs within.
I dropped the disc into the player, opened a beer and stepped out onto the porch. Leaning back in a decrepit rocker, feet kicked up on the half-painted rail, I watched the first western stars pull themselves from the rags of cloud cover over the mountains and listened to the first few tracks.
What I heard was the testament of a man with more miles behind him that most singers twice his age. When you hear a Klyma song, you can never be sure if you’re hearing something brand new or some long-forgotten song that has been a part of the American Folk psyche for generations. As the songs continued to roll out of the speakers like a slow moving train or river barge, it became apparent that Rust Belt Vagabond is Klyma’s Magnun Opus; at least, so far – one suspects, and hopes, that there will be many more.
I defy anyone to try to listen to “Suicide Blue” without being haunted or “Add a Little Love” without smiling and tapping a foot or “Two Degrees in Buffalo” without feeling that he’s singing about your home town or any track on this album without riding waves of nostalgia and empathy.
My favorite line from the Jarmusch film Down by Law is spoken in broken English by Bob (Roberto Benigni) to Zack (Tom Waits): “Is a sad and beautiful world,” he says. That line sums up the reality of life as well as any I’ve heard; and it describes Rust Belt Vagabond as truthfully as could be imagined. Sad and beautiful, indeed – and the exquisiteness of the latter owes to the deep honesty of the former.