If you live
in Adelaide, you can buy Jim's album from Big Star CDs & Records,
in Rundle Street, City.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!!
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
wanna know what’s goin’ down/In
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
off – nobody wins. And that includes Father Christmas himself…!
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…
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’!
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
to Heart’ is a searchingly honest look at a couple in a lonesome
world, people with the shadows
inside who sing:
most affecting acoustic song.
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!
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…
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.
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’.
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…”
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
not support Jim Lesses in that noble aim and tuneful labour by purchasing
a copy of ‘American Dream’?
© Geoff Hastwell, September 11, 2005
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