Saturday, 19 Jan 2019

Review: Mellencamp adds an intrepid touch to American classics

John Mellencamp, "Other Affairs of the People" (Republic Records)

In his youth, John Mellencamp was known for his audacity. This impetuosity brought him on the big stage, where he became a stadium-sized rocker endowed with an adventurous spirit.

He is generally far from the stature reached by contemporaries named Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but he sometimes takes bigger risks.

Mellencamp's intrepidity is well represented on his latest album, "Other People's Stuff," a cover song cover, including some American classics, from four decades of work.

The former civil rights anthem, presented by Mellencamp during a 2010 White House rally, was featured in a version of the game "Keep Your Eyes on Eyes on the Prize", which may well surprise those who do not do not wait for such virulent notes from a white man in the center.

There's also a slow-motion version of "Wreck of the Old '97", an iconic song on the train, and a song by Merle Travis titled "Dark as a Dungeon", which Mellencamp originally produced for a documentary about coal extraction. Mellencamp's earthy, cigarette-shaped roar expresses the honesty of the working class at a time.

Some cuts would fit perfectly in "The Lonesome Jubilee", the best album Mellencamp, with an accordion and a violin enhancing the atmosphere. And there are hints all the way through the range of composers he has embraced – from Jimmie Rodgers to Robert Johnson to Stevie Wonder – that Mellencamp's tenacity sometimes prevails where others will not want to go.

It's an essential truth about Mellencamp's career that this collection brilliantly reinforces: even when the songs are not his, the man takes risks.

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