Album Review

Greg Klyma and his old guitar

Greg Klyma - Never Knew Caroline

My old guitar and me/ moonlit songs and memories/ after all this time/ so many near miss rhymes/ we're doin' fine, my old guitar and me …

Greg Klyma has been doin' fine for 20-plus years, living the troubadour life and performing on stages in clubs, at festivals, in listening rooms, and in folks' living rooms and backyard.

His newest album, his ninth, is Never Knew Caroline, one of the strongest in his impressive catalogue. “My Old Guitar” is the closing song in a collection inspired but not overwhelmed by a tough breakup. 

These road-tested songs dig deep into folk, country and rock traditions, and they benefit from the contributions of friends he’s made along the road, including acclaimed singer/songwriter Peter Case (Plimsouls) and guitarist Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams) from his native Buffalo, N.Y., and guitarist Bill Kirchen (Commander Cody, Nick Lowe, Twangbangers etc. etc.). 

From the title track, a ballad of longing and regret about a guy who can’t get out of his own head, Klyma pivots to “Sand,” a study of  humanity’s arrogance, the illusion of progress, and the fleeting nature of both love and the more tangible artifacts of human existence.

“Once upon a time/ in this land there walked a giant/ left footprints in the sand/ never was seen again,” he sings. “Progress is the word we use for all that we discover/ discovery is just stumbling across a thing that’s always been.”

“Kristofferson,” a tribute to one of Klyma’s favorite songwriters, is a somber ballad about a couple on very different pages. For her, Kristofferson’s songs are a refuge. 

“Lonesome” is heartbreaking in its imagery:

Angels fall from the skies/ it is true I have known some/ Had I not looked in your eyes/ I would not know what it’s like to be lonesome.

If you’re going to be lonesome, Klyma suggests, it’s best to realize early that “Ex-Girlfriends Cost Less Money Than Ex-Wives.” This concert favorite burns with Morlix on bass and a stinging Kirchen on lead guitar. (A solo acoustic version can be found on Klymalive in Buffalo from 2010.)

Other highlights include: 

“The Bastard Son,” a revenge tale gone bad about a fellow with daddy issues; 

“Down in the Mouth,” a swampy rocker (“she never makes mistakes so she never takes the blame”) featuring Morlix on guitar;

And “All the Other Bridges”  (“When I need a place to turn/ I turn to you while all the other bridges burn”), an Allman Bros.-meet-Dylan rocker featuring Case on Hammond B3 organ. 

Klyma is now based in the Boston area. When he’s not on the road, he presides over an ever-changing group of players for  Americana Sundays at the Thunder Road club in Somerville. 

Klyma wrote his first song at age 18 and booked his first gig at 22. He had a rock band called Stone Church in the mid-’90s, evidence of which comes at shows when he straps on an electric guitar.

He is a frequent presence on YouTube and Facebook – he recently posted a fresh video every morning for months, many of them covers of favorite songs. 

But it’s at a show where Klyma, a multi-instrumentalist and accomplished guitarist, is at his best. There, performing solo or with a friend or two, he is free to channel his heroes Woody Guthrie and Tom Petty, telling stories about his songs and displaying a sly sense of humor.

My old guitar and me/ yeah we might make things harder than it had to be/ still work on the songs to get ’em tight/ might even try this one tonight/ if it’s feeling right, and it always feels right/ my old guitar …