Like many musicians, singer-songwriter Jake Simmons had great plans for 2020. The time had come to start thinking about a follow up to his ‘Shake So Easy’ LP recorded with The Little Ghosts, but by the time he’d hoped to resurrect the band, the world had other ideas and sidelined everything and everyone with a global pandemic.
Undeterred, Simmons went back to basics. He took to his basement studio and returned to material that had been written back in 2013 as a companion to The Little Ghosts’ ‘Them & Them & Us’. The resulting EP, ‘My American Dream’ features material that, in the singer-songwriter’s own words, deals with “losing personal relationships through political and social differences” and, understandably, is a little thinner sounding in places than before, but retains the core of his previous full band arrangements, where garage rock meets a very effective blue collar sound.
The title track sets everything off with the EP’s true highlight. Beginning with just voice and guitar, it opens in a sedate manner, accentuating a homespun feel, but soon blossoms into a full blown rocker where elements of Nat Freedberg’s past meets with a Springsteen-ish sound. Jake takes the heart of New Jersey and plants it into the middle of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and whips up a brilliant riff in the process. Joining the obviously blue collar sound, he reels off a set of angry statements that have clearly contributed to wrecking his own American dream, ranging from the removal of abortion rights, to the rise of neo-Nazis (“they’re gonna burn everything to dust/the Nazis can take the bus”), and the value of commerce over environmental concerns. There’s also a snapshot of a time when a reality TV star was President and he dished out advice that condoned drinking bleach. It’s a stark reminder of how the US had gradually spiralled into a huge mess at the time of recording. For those who choose not to hear Jake’s plight, or pick up on his subtle as bricks social commentary, the number comes loaded with brilliant melodies throughout. With influences from the latter-day Replacements colliding with Springsteen, a world of hook driven whoahs and some angular lead guitar breaks, it’s a track that’s as catchy as hell.
Stretching out further, ‘Killing Me Slowly’ places a more harmonious vocal over muted chords, before taking a detour into a world of riffs that’s more obviously influenced by early 80s power pop. As before, Simmons approaches the music in a very casual manner, and by the time a more melodic chorus hits your ears, it’s a tune that feels both contemporary and familiar. It might not be as instant as the opener, but between a chorus that sounds like a noisy Connells, a couple of ringing lead guitars and a pleasing marriage between the rootsy and rocky, it’ll get under the skin in time. Taking everything down a notch, ‘Weeds’ mixes a roots inspired sound with a very sedate, almost soulful vibe, and Jake applies his vocal accordingly. The musical highlights come very solidly from a moody guitar, moving between soft chords and retro twang with ease, but a few plays highlights a very natural lead break showing off a love for various 70s acts, and the number’s brief foray into a tango-ish rhythm shows how the arrangement – although often familiar – isn’t afraid of an unexpected detour.
Last up, ‘Them and Them and Us Again’ provides more of a direct link with Jake’s past, and deals with the prospect of breaking friendships due to unshared social ideals. The vocal is suitably impassioned; the lead cries in a way that seems incredibly world weary, and in a way that slowly pulls the listener towards a slow groove topped by a raucous lead guitar break or two. In so many ways, it’s the performer’s most mature work; the angry guitar is the perfect compliment to the aching voice, and with a stabbed keyboard and more muted chords driving the final verse, the whole arrangement is more concerned with serving the lyric rather than just offering an easy rocker that’s more in keeping with the core of The Little Ghosts’ best work.
This is terrific. It may be made up from tracks that have been circulating digitally from 2020 onward, but hearing them together actually makes the material stronger. The Jake Simmons world of pop and politics has truly come of age with this release, and if you have any kind of love for good, rootsy garage rock, ‘My American Dream’ is a short release that’s guaranteed to entertain.