Retail Sales

If you live in Adelaide, you can buy Jim's album from Big Star CDs & Records, in Rundle Street, City.

You can also buy the album from the Folk Trax outlet at the SA Folk Centre, located on the corner of George Street and South Road, Thebarton.


Computer Music 

Groove Criminals

American Dream is available online through FolkTrax (in Australia);
or through CDBABY (in the USA).

American Dream CD Review

This review, written by Geoff Hastwell first appeared in the July-September, 2005 issue of SCALA NEWS. It is reprinted here in full with the kind permission of both SCALA (Songwriters, Composers and Lyricists Assoc.), and Geoff Hastwell.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jim Lesses is back – with a silken vengeance, grace, wit, intelligence and imagination. Three years ago he gave us ‘Sometimes I Wake Up Naked’, now here is ‘American Dream’, thirteen class tracks plus a bonus disc. Bill Cook provides the arresting black and white cover and Jim’s home recording, mixing and labour does the rest. The nice folk at Adelaide Tape Duplicators looked after the mastering. As Jim states in the album’s liner notes: It’s amazing what you can do with a computer, a couple of secondhand keyboards, and countless hours of spare time….’

In play order, Jim jumps off with ‘Stand and Defend’, an optimistic and altruistic plea for human beings to bring an end to your wars. But this song also condemns those who start wars in the first place – we hate what you’ve done to this country. Cleverly, Jim mounts the lyric on a boppy, keyboards-led bed which is very easy to listen to.

Then the title track (American Dream), a wry and even grieving glimpse at those in the good ol’ US of A who simply want to check out of the American Dream. With an up-tempo feel to the computer-generated music, it evokes the despair of people who – unbeknownst to themselves – share part of the blame for the famous dream becoming a nightmare.

I’ve been to Yass, near Canberra, where Jim tells me ‘Liberty Café’ was conceived. There is a yearning flavour in the songs reflections on life fast leaving behind a woman at a roadside café. She was looking for her freedom on the day she ran away/ Now she spends it taking orders in the Liberty Café.

Some double tracking in ‘Bitter Wine’ gives extra punch to a powerful song. For a capital offence, justice can be hard, and Jim’s use of synthesised organ/strings allied with acoustic guitar provides excellent foundation for words like I have seen the guilty party, and I know he bears my name.

Appropriately, ‘Shovel It In’ offers timely comic contrast, as Jim satirises a man (or woman!) hooked on junk food – in QUANTITY! The melody and arrangement remind me of the famous Peter Sellers-Sophia Loren parody song about an Indian doctor and his patient done many years ago. But, for God’s sake, Get out of my way and let me shovel it in!!

Back to grimmer fare in ‘Struggle Town’, a descent to Jim’s view of ‘Desolation Row’, with its battlers on the dark side, the hard side, the wrong side of the tracks. A brisk rat-a-tat of percussion, aided by kazoo/trumpet-like computer music is brilliant complement to lines like: a real hard sound when they drag those bodies across the ground/ But you don’t wanna know what’s goin’ down/In  Struggle Town.

Who’s Gonna Win?’ is a stark paean for a lost generation, young people who find out only too soon: It’s a rat race, it’s a jungle, it’s a war on the streets in many places where all bets’re off – nobody wins. And that includes Father Christmas himself…!

Then a quick shift to ‘Don’t Sell Us Pipe Dreams’. In this track, Jim opts for 3/4 time, guitar, bass and percussion to plead to the world on behalf of real Aussie battlers searching for answers that I won’t regret. The key to a full, happy life, Jim muses, after admitting that his character is treading water as fast as I can is to shoot for your own dreams and control your own fate/facing the challenge without fear and hate…

Humour surfaces again – in tubfuls – with ‘A Modern Chief Executive’, which tips its hat to Gilbert and Sullivan in no small measure. A scathingly satirical expose of a contemporary (and contemptible!) CEO in the economic rationalist world, whose philosophy is when things go belly-up, the buck stops over there! Let’s wish total confusion on all such ‘captains of industry’!

Junk Yard Dog’ grabs our ears with an eclectic and entertaining assortment of effects and music that Jim obtained from a UK website. His liner notes acknowledge and thank Oli of the Groove Criminals for his kind help here. Thus we hear assorted clangs, thumps, buzzes, bells and whirrs – along with Jim’s vocals angrily complaining about a lover treating him like a junk yard dog. No surprise therefore, when at the end the singer simply yells, Shove it!

The Future Is Theirs’ has a deliberate robotic/mechanical vocal commenting on a world gone terribly, terribly awry. With a heavy, steady beat and computer music dominant, searing lines like poverty is just for the poor and everything will be fine if you stay in the line. The semi rap song has chilling resonance's of ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’, but is rescued from the black mood by its optimistic final verse: Language is there to be heard/When life is for living and pleasure for giving/And poverty only a word.

I’m sure that Pete Seeger would approve of and encourage singing of ‘We Stand Together’, which is nothing if not an ideal union anthem. In a country where the notorious AWA [Australian Workplace Agreement, Ed.] is being heavily touted by the Federal Government, words like When governments and boss conspire?/ We stand together… and we won’t give up the fight make a healthy and necessary plea for sanity and our better natures.

The final track of ‘American Dream’ ‘No Blood For Oil’ was penned for an earlier compilation album a few years ago, but Jim has given it a new arrangement that only helps emphasise its timeless theme and plea: You  start your wars for blood and oil and watch our children bleed. The rich blend of guitar, computer synthesised music and percussion makes another perfect vehicle for Jim’s so-accurate lyrics.

But then there comes the special BONUS disc, which very much rates a mention. First up is a ‘normal vocalled’ version of ‘The Future Is Theirs’, a very different but equally arresting track to the one on the main album.

Heart to Heart’ is a searchingly honest look at a couple in a lonesome world, people with the shadows inside who sing:
Here’s to the losers
/ Who deal with the bruises...

A most affecting acoustic song.

Keeping Up Appearances’ is another battler’s song, the cry of a bloke dragging my own bloody cross. As he adds, to a simple acoustic guitar melody, There’s only so much punishment a man can take / If they keep tuning down the screws I think I’m gonna break. But like C.J. Dennis; in a previous time, he calls take a bloody stand!

Ah, Peggio’ is a nice pun and lilting instrumental, while ‘Baby, I’ is a refreshing little love ditty carried on acoustic guitar and percussion: I play every note in my heart…da da da…

In ‘Fashion Pages’, recorded live at SCALA, Jim taks the mickey out of the many ‘dedicated followers of fashion’: you’re so busy being trendy, you don’t see how bad you look.

A new version, live, of Jim’s famous western ‘tribute song’ ‘The Ballad of Billy Winter’ is next, with its tale of desire, death, injustice, escape and forgiveness. A huge song, in the same league, I venture, as Dylan’s ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ from ‘Blood On the Tracks’.

To round off the whole shebang, and a terrific CD altogether, an instrumental version of ‘The Future is Theirs', acoustic and crisp and melodious.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. Apropos the content of ‘American Dream’ I once heard a young singer-songwriter interviewed on radio. He stated, categorically, that he “never wanted to lay a message on anyone”, but was content to “just let lyrics flow out of me and let the listener take it just as she or he felt…”  

In the light of such philosophy, I thank my lucky stars that there are people like Jim Lesses who DO care a lot about the ‘messages’ they inject into a song, and who DO care a great deal what effect that song has on a listener. The writer and singer on ‘American Dream’ very much wants to change/help/ improve this funny ol’ world that’s a comin’ along, as Dylan puts it in ‘Song to Woody’.

Why not support Jim Lesses in that noble aim and tuneful labour by purchasing a copy of ‘American Dream’?

© Geoff Hastwell, September 11, 2005


JIM LESSES: American Dream

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