Americana UK - John Jenkins and the James Street Band “Looking for That American Dream” (Independent 2019) 9/10
Here is a notable and established band from Liverpool. The reliability of John Jenkins’ work is demonstrated in the title track ‘Looking for That American Dream’ which begins the record and captures the listener’s attention immediately with its references to ‘The American Song Book, John Denver and Dolly.’ You are in safe hands. Look out for the outstanding promotional video by Phil Calland. The rest of the album follows in its wake.
The story here, and behind every track, movingly alludes to life that carries on beneath, and in spite of, the dream: the girl that “just didn’t care,” the lack of privacy in life where “the walls are paper thin.” The accompanying lyrics and notes for every track are an indication of the care John takes with his words and his performance. ‘Just Another Day,’ one of the most moving tracks in the collection, floors a listener even before the true story behind (the mass shooting at Parklands, Florida in February 2018) is explained. Again, it is the ordinary detail, the blueness of the sky, passing “Casey’s store along the way,” “your photograph on the mantelpiece… how “You kissed my cheek to say goodbye;” all these normally ordinary events conspire to devastate the listener entirely.
The third track, ‘I Was the One,’ in John’s notes, is, for him the rarity of a happy love song, composed on a journey from Meols, on the Wirral, to Glasgow, to see Kacey Musgrave at the C to C Festival in 2018. A song that works by the repetition of the title, ‘Can You Hear Me’ with its confident, confiding guitar work, and mouth organ, rejoices in remembering a moment, important for his dad, when John was eighteen months old and the family moved to the relative greenness of West Derby, Liverpool. Here is that booster song of encouragement! Playing with Fire’ was written by John for his band, The Persuaders in the 1980’s, now performed as the story of a lonely man by the James Street Band. Try to watch the YouTube video made by Brian Roberts and you will see John and the band acting out the confessional very professionally!
‘What Did I Have Before?’ was written and is sung by another band member, David Nixon. With up-tempo ukulele background, the same positive vibe continues with a song that makes one “stop and think!” ‘Roundabout’features a friend of John’s on violin, Amy Chambers, with a rousing female chorus, giving a glorious acceptance of all that life throws at you. All in all, a glorious hillbilly sound, just adding to the variety of the collection.
Watch out for the repeated chorus that catches you on the next track: “Can’t get you out of my mind….” Here is a singer/ songwriter, easy with his style and lyricism, an accomplished musician. And this impression is strengthened still further in ‘The Forgotten Man,’ a gentle, thoughtful song, very moving with a couplet question, at the end that epitomises all that the record is: “And if all the world is one big stage/ How come I’m in the audience waiting to be engaged?”
‘Ghost in the Bar’, is an interesting track written by Denis and Sue Parkinson, with thoughts about this bar-room character, known to everyone, with two words that hover overall: “charity and crimes.” John’s assimilation, knowledge, and love of music is inspired on one track, by Sturgill Simpson, and epitomised in the tribute to Sam Cooke. “What a wonderful world it is,” he sings, “Since I’ve met you.” Take note of the guitar bridge – Perfect!
‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ The album ends on a high, finishing with a very catchy sing-along: “Much too much, much to ask for.” Camillla Sky and Vanessa Murray lead the chorus and capture the perfect ending of a fully orchestrated, violin included, track.
Everything about the album has a confident and appealing allure to it: Bob Dylan’s picture of Half Way House Café on the cover of the record, and the detailed and interesting notes within, all of this is adding to its appeal. There are 13 tracks all told. There is much to listen to and get involved with with this thought-provoking collection of songs.
Here is a Liverpool band that demands national attention