John Mellencamp: Freedom's Road (Universal)

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John Mellencamp: Rural Route
John Mellencamp: Freedom's Road (Universal)

If this guy hadn't been such a dickhead when he was John Cougar in the early 80s, or so arrogant when he became John Cougar Mellencamp we'd probably be falling all over him now as one of the authentic voices of Americana/alt.country rock.

He reinvented himself as a man with a conscience and in touch with the spirit of small towns in the Mid-West, the disenfranchised and the working class.

Time has allowed we cynics to admit that has long since ceased to be a pose and his albums have touched some deep and dark places -- but of course others do that too (notably Springsteen who seems his most visible competitor). But that takes nothing away from Mellencamp and the music he makes which is often closer to Steve Earle than many critics might like concede.

This time out -- on a gritty and rockin' album which comes with a four track disc of acoustic versions of album tracks -- he harks back to a better America (The Americans which might sound hollow to those on the sharp end of their imperialism but is actually about that older America), the battering the heartland has taken (Ghost Towns Along The Highway, the menacing Rural Route) and a kind of Woody Guthrie/Pete Seeger working class optimism.

On one track he speaks of Forgiveness -- and if you've never forgiven him for all that bullish pomposity then now might be the time. This sits well alongside your Steve Earle, Springsteen and all those trying to give voice to a better America than the current headlines indicate.

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