“American Town,” the striking new single from New Jersey songwriter Pete Donnelly, which appears on his EP by the same name, is a heartfelt rocker exploring issues related to inequality and the American dream. The song represents somewhat of a departure for Donnelly, who’s known for writing pop-driven and personal tunes as a solo artist and in his long-running rock and roll outfit the Figgs.
“I feel like this song wrote itself, but it’s a song based in the tradition of protest songs and folk music,” says Donnelly. “I was trying to find the identity of the Americans who feel under attack—which appears to be everybody these days. We feel like we’re supposed to be in an era of progress, but sometimes it feels like we’re in an era of regression. As far as race, economy and class, there are very few people who don’t feel abandoned or underrepresented in some way.”
Although written and released in the wake of the shooting of African American teenager Trayvon Martin and the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Donnelly says the song isn’t based on any one singular event. Rather, like British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe’s classic tune “The Rose of England,” it’s a song filled with conflicting feelings toward your country—a place you can love while still calling attention to its flaws.
“It’s a critical song but it’s not an anti-American song,” Donnelly says. “To be critical of your country is to be caring of it. For me, the song is a reflection of what I’m seeing. It seems like there’s so little protest music right now, and there’s so much to criticize. People have to make their voices heard.”
The song appears on the seven-track American Town EP, available now. The rest of the EP is an eclectic mix, incorporating influences from Afropop to R&B, and it includes the light-hearted kiss-off song “So Long,” featuring backup vocals from Shelby Lynne.
Pete Donnelly has played with everyone from Tommy Stinson (Replacements, Guns & Roses) to Soul Asylum and Graham Parker during his solo career and as bass player for the Figgs. He also spent several years as a member of the legendary NRBQ.
“If you know Pete Donnelly, it’s likely as a member of one of the world’s best rock bands, the Figgs. But Donnelly has always had a lot going on outside of that, including a career as a solo artist that started over a decade ago…”—Boston Globe