“Life’s a drag but not mine,” sings Jack Klatt at the outset of his lively new disc, Mississippi Roll, a fifteen track ramble up and down the great American river. Along for the ride are four genuine Minnesota music legends – Cornbread Harris, Dakota Dave Hull, Spider John Koerner and Charlie Parr – but what’s really remarkable about Mississippi Roll is just how much Klatt’s group, the Cat Swingers, shines in prestigious company. Whether they’re rockin’ the foot-stompin’ folk blues familiar to our blue Minnesota waters or the gritty gumbo of cajun and gypsy jazz from down the Big Muddy, Klatt and his Cat Swingers are the stars of this spontaneous, inter-generational experiment.
Jack Klatt, the 26 year old St Paul native you’ve never met but already know, is larger than life. Unlike some more ostentatious contemporaries, Klatt’s affable modesty is the key to his charm. You might drop your rear on the barstool next to him without knowing you’re sharing a rail with a genuine repository of American song, as comfortable reviving his growing repertoire of traditionals as casually conjuring new standards like “Life’s a Drag (but not mine)” and “Do You Think About Tomorrow?”
Klatt’s been likened to a Steinbeck character, and you could see where he might have a song for every struggle, like David Carradine in Bound For Glory but what he’s accomplished with the collaborations in Mississippi Roll suggests there’s a little more of Herman Melville’s mysterious Confidence Man in him than Tom Joad. He own enthusiasm is inspirational, bringing out the best in those who play with him. It’s only right he should be the star of his own show.
“Do You Think About Tomorrow?” is a gem – a song he played it here at Hymie’s not long ago. The song is equal parts Irving Berlin and Randy Newman and a case in point: Mississippi Roll‘s guests happily lent thumbs, fingers, feet and voice to fine, spontaneous performances, and fans of West Bank music will not be disappointed, but it’s just that the originals by Klatt and the Cat Swingers are the disc’s highlights. Tune into collaborator/co-producer Dakota Dave Hull’s KFAI program (Thursday mornings 10-12) and you’ll see why he’d back the Cat Swingers so enthusiastically.
The band swings on “Life’s a Drag” and the jaunty jumper “Must Have Been the Devil”, and Patrick Harrison shreds the washboard on the their raucous take on “Cocaine Blues”. Klatt and Sabyre Rae Daniels, who also plays ukulele, trade verses through “Goin’ Back Home” like Lonnie Johnson and Clara Smith did on one of the finest swingin’ 78s you’re going to find (Okeh 8839) – yes, the first thing that comes to mind is a blues record from 1930.
Garsh there’s a healthy scene backing traditional music in town right now! Some (not us) were surprised to see debut disc by Klatt’s pals and oftentimes showmates the Cactus Blossoms tagged by the City Pages as the best album of the past twelve months. Stop by one of their Monday night shows at the Turf Club if you’re suspicious – while you’re out and about check out other traditional/country performers like Jake Manders (Thursday night at Cause Spirits and Soundbar), Caitlin Robertson (who’ll be playing up north later this month but will be back around town May 28th for a show at the Amsterdam in St. Paul), or Pocahontas County, a young bluegrass quartet that’s a favorite of ours. They play a regular set at the 331 Club on the 1st and 3rd Mondays (an early set starting at 6:30) and host the Amsterdam Bar’s Theme Time on the second Thursday.
But what you’ll really want to do is run to your refrigerator and move the bills off the calendar. Circle Saturday May 26th when you find it: That’s when Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers will release Mississippi Roll with the big show it deserves. They’ll be performing at the Cedar Cultural Center, joined by Dakota Dave Hull and Cornbread Harris. The Cactus Blossoms will play an opening set.