Album of the week: “The Great American Racer”

Cal U graduate’s new album shows resilience and hope in communities struggling with drugs and decline


Sarah Seader

CalTimes Album of the Week

Emily Wilson and Hannah Kurtzhal

When Cal U alum Jake Dryzal was a Freshman in 2018, he began writing songs for a rock album with a theme focusing on awareness of opioid epidemics and Rustbelt communities. 

“I picked this topic because I felt it was really important to me,” said Dryzal, who graduated from the commercial music technology program in 2021. “The idea came to me when I was driving around Johnstown with my family. As we passed many empty buildings and potholes all along the road, I began to question how things got the way they are.” 

Dryzal began looking for the answers to his questions by looking into his town’s history. The town’s history included three terrible floods, one being the worst in American History dating back to 1889. Dryzal also revealed that the town used to be known as a coal and steel town.

“It began to bother me that I was living in an area past its glory days,” Dryzal said. “I also talked about drugs a lot on my album, which is another very personal topic to me as someone who grew up in that area where drugs were really rampant.”

Prodigious Productions released the album on Mar. 24, five years after Dryzal started work on it. Dryzal said he began recording for the album in 2019, but the Covid pandemic delayed its completion.

‘“In the aspect of writing, it all came pretty naturally to me,” Dryzal said. “I recorded the first half of the album in Erie during summer break and then during my Junior year me and my buddy from school, Brandon Seliga, started recording together in Gallagher Hall on campus.”

During the pandemic, Dryzal was limited with the supplies he had at home for recording and was therefore forced to press pause on finishing the album.

“Not only was I limited with what I could do for the album from home, but I also didn’t think that releasing the album during the pandemic wasn’t a good idea,” Dryzal said. “I just felt like my subject matter on the album wasn’t appropriate because everything was so focused on Covid at the time. I didn’t want to throw another wrench in the mix.”

After things began to subside with the pandemic, Dryzal was able to be back on campus with the pro tools needed to record the album in Gallagher Hall.

“In 2022 I mixed the remaining songs myself for the most part, which led me to releasing the album this year,” Dryzal said. “It’s been a long time coming. It took a lot of time and energy. At times it was pretty chaotic for me, so I feel very accomplished now that it’s finally been released.”

The album has 12 songs with a mixture of many different themes. The album hits many different listeners in many different ways. The lyrics throughout the album contain very deep messaging dealing with opioid epidemics. Dryzal expressed that when growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to see news about overdoses in the area. 

“As I grew up, I began to experience drug abuse among my friends and family and it really just bothered me,” Dryzal said. “It felt like something that would never end. I later left town and started classes at Cal. I found myself noticing similar things among the local community there. I could just see that there were really a lot of struggles in the area. After seeing some of the same things at Cal, it felt like there was really no way of escaping it.” 

Dryzal felt like the best course of action was to write music about it, leading to his recently released “Great American Racer” album.

 “There’s no specific reason that I came up with this name for my album,” Dryzal said. “The name randomly popped up in my head and I stuck with it because the album deals with a lot of social issues that are present in America. I thought that by choosing my title in this way goes to show that you don’t need a specific reason behind the title.”

Listeners of rock and pop will find this album worth listening to. The messages Dryzal conveys in his songs offer inspiration and a sense of hopeful thinking for better times ahead. 

The last song on the album is called ‘For November” and is the longest song on the  album. It talks about the many different feelings that people experience when going through drug addiction. The song tells the story of a person who is sad about their addiction and wishes that the cold of November would take away the pain.

Another song, called “Isn’t Bright,” reminisces about the way that the town of Johnstown used to be and how its population has faced a serious decline. It also talks about a person who wishes to feel like they belong. 

Dryzal stated that the mixing aspect of the album was where he faced the most challenges.

“I wanted a very particular sound for the album which took a lot of time to develop,” Dryzal said. “I wanted it to be something that was kind of bittersweet to look back on the town’s past and where it is now. I view some of the messaging on this album as sort of pessimistic.” 

Dryzal stated that one of the songs he is most proud of from the album is titled “Isn’t bright” and explains these kinds of negative tendencies, although the album as a whole isn’t meant to come off as just that. 

“I think that this song took me out of my comfort zone as a musician. The song is able to express all of the album’s themes into one little package,” Dryzal said. “I think that it can be seen as the centerpiece of the album from many different standpoints. I want it to be kind of hopeful in its messaging and I want to inspire positive change.” 

Dryzal hopes to inspire listeners to see that there are better times ahead and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

A portion of all profits that Dryzal makes from the album will be donated to local communities that are suffering from these situations. 

“Using art can be a really fulfilling way to spread awareness on these issues and help inspire positive change,” Dryzal said. “I hope that my art does just that.” 

“The Great American Racer” offers comfort and a feeling of being understood for those battling opioid addiction. Though it has mostly slow songs, they carry upbeat moments. We decided this album deserves 8/10.