The gorgeous aerial establishing shot of the video for “I’m Coming Home” takes us to a pretty remote place: Wahoo, Nebraska, an hour west into the Great Plains from Omaha. Alone at a table in a no-frills diner, a long-haul truck driver calls his wife. His daughter’s birthday is coming up, but he’s got a load to deliver. Will he make it in time? We catch a glimpse of the plates on his eighteen-wheeler: they’re from California. He’s got a long way to go. How does he balance his familial responsibilities with his professional obligations, and the demands of a hungry nation that requires truckers to deliver the goods we all depend on?
Luckily, he’s got something that most truckers don’t: a balladeer. Over at the next table is veteran country-rocker Jim Waneka — and Jim Waneka understands. Because he approaches his blue-collar characters with the respect they deserve, he brings them to life with color, compassion, attention to telling detail, and scrupulous emotional accuracy. Over the three rousing verses of “I’m Coming Home,” Waneka tells the truck driver’s story. The loneliness of the road, the fears of obsolescence, the physical exhaustion, the pain of estrangement from loved ones, the sense of honor and duty, and the pride of a job well done: it’s all there. This is a real American tale he’s spinning, and a fearless investigation of the kind of everyday hero who is, far too often, overlooked.
“I’m Coming Home” follows a different kind of reunion story: the heartbreaking “A Different Man,” a song about the transformative effects of war and overseas service, and a plea for greater understanding. For Waneka, veterans and truck drivers aren’t all that different. They’re both doing difficult and dangerous jobs that put tremendous strains on families. Waneka matches these stories to music that reflects that sense of dignity — grand, glorious, ringing roots-rock, with open strummed chords, big beats, Hammond organ, and sweet harmonies, all held together by the singer’s oaken voice.
Although the main character of “I’m Coming Home” makes no secret of his road-weariness, there’s no denying the physical beauty of the American West — and the accompanying video shows it off beautifully. We follow the eighteen-wheeler on the hypnotic Plains Interstates, through the great stony passes of the Utah mountains, and through the stark and beautiful deserts beyond. When he finally sees the sign for Redlands in California, he breaks into a massive smile. We bet you will, too.