John Mellencamp: A review of Life, Death, Love and Freedom

Posted: January 20, 2011 in Celebrities
Tags: , , , , ,

I know John Mellencamp has been in the news lately for his recent split from supermodel Elaine Irwin and his possible relationship with Meg Ryan.  Unfortunately I think this press has taken away from his new album release and I really hope all this wasn’t planned to come by some PR idiot to get people to notice the album because it has really overshadowed it completely.

Recently Mellencamp sat down with NPR to talk about the album, the interview was fantastic and it discusses the locations and methods used to record, it’s a side of Mellencamp I don’t think most people know, it’s a really interesting interview, you can find it here:

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=129275541&m=129293183

I have always thought that in my lifetime there have been two American musicians who tell the story of this country better than anyone and get little credit for it, Randy Newman and John Mellencamp.  Unfortunately most people only think of “Short People” when they hear Newman’s name and the big hair of Johnny Cougar when Mellencamp is mentioned.  As they have aged, Mellencamp in particular has really become reflective and regretful of the over produced pop sound he used in the 80’s, although he does seem cognizant of the fact that the sound made him rich and famous.  It’s really interesting to listen to him play some of those songs these days, “Jack and Diane” in particular sounds like a country ballad.

Mellencamp has always been a brash in your face sort of guy but I have a lot of respect for someone who has remained loyal to his home, (he still lives in Indiana), his work with Farm Aid and his willingness to tell the mainstream music business to kiss off.

For this current album, Mellencamp worked with T-Bone Burnett to really reduce the songs to their folk rock core, with stripped down recordings that were done over one microphone in the center of the room.  The rooms themselves are interesting as they used Sun Studios in Memphis, a hotel room where Robert Johnson recording much of this work and a Baptist Church in the south where Mellencamp got baptized.  Here’s a link to the first song on the album, it may be the best of the bunch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWGKZMEgDAo

One more thing I really like about the album there is an open source code used on the digital files that produces high-definition recordings and allows for easy manipulation from disk to mps to itunes or any other way you want to use the file.  The format has been developed by Burnett and I think shows a really wonderful understanding of the modern realities of how we all use music.  Not surprising from T-Bone Burnett who is widely recognized as the best in music business.  I’m including a few track notes below:

Tracks 1, 3, and 7 seem to find Mellencamp really exploring his mortality for the first time and all three are really sweet, simple folk rock songs which highlight Mellencamp’s ability to tell a story like few others.

Track 4 I realize just from its sound is meant to be the single off the album and it’s a solid song but I really think at least two of the tracks mentioned above are better.

Tracks 4, 11 and 12 are subtle and bits of social commentary and track 12, County Fair has a really haunting edge to it that I find really addictive.

All in all a solid album top to bottom, if you have any affinity at all for Mellencamp pick it up or load it down.

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