John Jenkins and The James Street Band
Looking For That American Dream
May 24, 2019 - Rebecca Cullen
John Jenkins and The James Street Band have put together a deeply thoughtful collection of stories and soundscapes for this latest album. Looking For That American Dream is introduced perfectly by the warm yet mildly melancholy tones of its folk-rock-driven title track – a classic, organic instrumental set-up, complete with harmonica and a few distinct, recognisable riffs, accompanies the singer’s notably smooth and accessible leading voice in a natural and quickly likable way.
From here on in, the project continues to lay out various scenes and story-lines that consistently underline a central concept but also showcase an artist and band with a fine ear for melody and effective musical expression.
Just Another Day follows the opener and leads with a far more mellow, acoustic aura. The story-telling begins again, details and emotions intertwine – personal reflections meet with a more widely relatable vibe that’s immediately inviting. Jenkins’ leading voice works gorgeously in this intimate and near-whispered setting. A stunning hook resolves in a subtle but powerful way, and the song progresses to build wonderfully. This is the work of a natural and experienced songwriter, with a considerate approach to the art-form, and this is highlighted throughout the album.
I Was The One injects a welcomed hit of energy into the playlist, reminding you of the live aspect and that a Friday night with the band would likely go down a treat. Can You Hear Me? afterwards has a familiar and classic sound to it, with another beautiful hook and some subtle but satisfying guitar work. Playing With Fire then digs deeper into the mind and emotions of the artist as a rather heart-breaking story pours through.
What I Did Before lifts the mood with a ukulele vibe and a simple shuffle of a beat. Jenkins’ voice sounds different in this joyful and quick setting, the song reflects again but does so with a sense of musical optimism. Jenkins’ writing style takes you through the many experiences of life – the successes, the regrets, the little things that light up an average day. When combined with such a genuine and real-time folk-rock sound this lets the songs connect in an honest way.
Roundabout presents a subtle knees-up groove and showcases the Northern intricacies of Jenkins’ voice in a pleasant manner. This song is an easy highlight, a gorgeous set-up – complete with additional vocals and country-style strings – walking in unison with a thoughtful, poetic song, and great performances from all involved. Get Her Out Of My Mind in contrast afterwards creates something of a shoulder-swaying mood.
During the latter half of the album, The Forgotten Man stands out for its Elton-style piano-led intro and the complex nature of its melodic development. Struggle and self-reflection build up towards optimism and a belief in better, and this is represented well throughout everything from the lyrics to the delivery to the instrumentation.
Ghost In The Bar is another highlight and perhaps the most memorable song on the project – easily recognizable, with a brilliantly simple yet striking hook. Sam Cooke afterwards lightens the tone and lifts the room with an acoustic bounce and a widely accessible love-song that subtly tips its hat to a musical legend.
At the penultimate moment, Good Company sets in with a vintage Americana style and another story that’s a joy to connect with – both vague and specific details work as one to create something that feels like it’s purely for you. Togetherness and a love for the good times shine brightly – a gentle but definite anthem for the end of the night.
Things come to a bright and multi-layered finish with the retro harmonies and cheer of Can We Still Be Friends. The concept thinks a little more deeply on things, the topic relatable again, but the overall vibe is a simple joy to have play. Another fine song and a strong way to close down a consistently impressive collection of tracks. A blessing of an album, and an artist and band well worth looking out for if you’re fortunate enough to catch them on the Liverpool live scene.