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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | New Rounder

Distinctions 4 étoiles Rock and Folk - Sélection Les Inrocks
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Rock - Released December 7, 2018 | Republic Records

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We’ve known all along that John Mellencamp is no poor man’s Bruce Springsteen, as haters have claimed for years. You need only take one look at the discography of this musician from Indiana to see it’s a treasure chest of musical gems. The songwriter tells the story of ordinary people in a stylish way, skilfully juggling rock, country, blues and folk and revamping the great classics. Mellencamp brings together some of these covers in his 24th album, Other People’s Stuff, with masterpieces taken from the Great American Songbook, including Gambling Bar Room Blues (Jimmie Rodgers), Mobile Blue (Mickey Newbury), Dark As A Dungeon (Merle Travis) and his version of Stones in My Passway by Robert Johnson which is feisty enough to wake him up in his grave. Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Rock - Released May 11, 2018 | Eagle Rock Entertainment

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Rock - Released April 28, 2017 | John Mellencamp PS

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Pop - Released January 1, 1997 | UMOD (Universal Music On Demand)

The Best That I Could Do is an appropriately self-deprecating title for John Mellencamp's greatest-hits collection, considering that the heartland rocker never seemed too convinced of his own worth. Of course, he had to struggle to get any respect after he was saddled with the stage name Johnny Cougar early in his career, but this 14-track collection proves that he was one of the best, unabashed straight-ahead rockers of the '80s. The 14 tracks here actually turn out to be a little too short to contain all of his great singles -- songs like "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Rumbleseat," "Pop Singer," "Again Tonight," and "What If I Came Knocking" are left off the collection (there's nothing from 1988's Big Daddy at all) -- but it's hard to argue with what's here. Over the course of the collection, such classic rock hits as "I Need a Lover," "Hurts So Good," "Jack and Diane," "Crumblin' Down," "Pink Houses," "Lonely Ol' Night," "Small Town," "Paper in Fire," "Cherry Bomb," and "Check It Out" are chronicled, with a new cover of Terry Reid's "Without Expression" added for good measure. It may fall short of being definitive, but only by a small margin, and it remains an excellent overview and introduction to Mellencamp's remarkably consistent body of work. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released December 7, 2018 | Republic Records

John Mellencamp gives away the intent of Other People's Stuff with its titles: it's a collection of covers, ten songs recorded between 1993 and 2018. Some of these songs come from tribute albums or soundtracks -- "Gambling Bar Room Blues" is taken from a 1997 tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, "I Don't Know Why I Love You" was pulled from 2003's An Interpretation of Stevie Wonder's Songs -- but most come from Mellencamp's studio albums. The notable exception is "Eyes on the Prize," a song he originally performed for President Barack Obama at the White House in 2010, here given a robust new version that sits along the rest of the oldies quite easily, playing as a slice of Americana that can also be read as protest song. Not everything on Other People's Stuff is politically charged -- Robert Johnson's "Stones in My Passway" is merely haunted, for instance -- but taken as a whole, the album can be read as a summation of what Mellencamp loves about America, which amounts to a political statement in 2018. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | Island Def Jam

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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Def Jam West

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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Hear Music

After making much of his artistic integrity and opposition to corporate interference for most of his career, John Mellencamp prefaced his previous album, 2007's Freedom's Road, by licensing one of its songs, "Our Country," for use in a television commercial for a truck. The broad exposure for the brief excerpt from the song helped give him his first singles chart entry in eight years, a one-week appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 88; it's not clear how many trucks it may have helped sell. There don't seem to be any songs on Mellencamp's 23rd album, Life Death Love and Freedom, that could be used to sell products. The choruses of songs like "Longest Days" ("Life is short, even in its longest days") and "John Cockers" ("I ain't got no friends") just don't seem to lend themselves to association with shopping of any kind. And maybe that's the point. Mellencamp's second consecutive album to use the word "Freedom" in the title is really the 56-year-old singer/songwriter's reflection on the lack of freedom, along with a life that seems to be almost over, love still idealized (the Buddy Holly-like "odd song out" here, "My Sweet Love"), and death, plenty of death. Musically, Mellencamp seems to have been listening closely to the first five Bob Dylan albums, paying more attention to the first of them, the largely traditional, folk-blues-styled Bob Dylan, than the last, the folk-rock Bringing It All Back Home. "If I Die Sudden," for example, has much of the feel and sound of "In My Time of Dyin'" on Bob Dylan. But unlike the young Dylan, who probably sang such songs without any direct consciousness of his own mortality, the aging Mellencamp, who has survived one heart attack already, brings real conviction to his reflections on death. Unfortunately, he is not much reconciled to it. He looks back regretfully on his heedless youth, and he has the sense not only that he personally has failed to fulfill his promise, but that the world he sees around him has declined instead of improving. "Everything you were after has gone down the drain," he laments in the concluding track, "A Brand New Song." This follows "For the Children," in which he attempted to muster some hope for the next generation, managing the conclusion, "All I can do is my best and be thankful for what we've got." In truth, the forced pessimism of these songs is consistent for an artist who titled an early album Nothin' Matters and What If It Did and sang, in the chorus of his most famous song, "Jack & Diane," "Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone." Now, however, he is able to invest it with an assumption of experienced, mature wisdom. Yet it remains as much about him as it is about the world he sees around him. [Life Death Love and Freedom was the first release to include a disc in the CODE format, a new technology playable on most DVD players.] ~ William Ruhlmann
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Rock - Released April 28, 2017 | John Mellencamp PS

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies marks the first time in a decade that a John Mellencamp studio record finds him in the producer's chair. It's the first time ever that he's shared billing on an album cover. Carlene Carter is a singer/songwriter and music biz veteran; the daughter of country music royalty -- Carl Smith and June Carter Cash -- making her the stepdaughter of Johnny. She and Mellencamp worked together on 2012's Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the musical theater project he scored for Stephen King; they collaborated further on the soundtrack for Ithaca -- the "Sugar Hill Mountain" reprised here is one of a handful of excellent duets between them. Things don't begin well, however. Mellencamp's attempt at Mickey Newbury's "Mobile Blue" (from his classic 'Frisco Mabel Joy album) is utterly dull despite using a full band driven by Miriam Sturm's excellent fiddling. "Battle of Angels" hearkens back to the songwriter's Lonesome Jubilee/Big Daddy period, and works like a charm. It's got everything: A killer hook, a poetic lyric, and a gritty vocal. Martina McBride appears as his duet partner on first single "Grandview," a rocking paean to trailer parks -- -- though guest guitarist Izzy Stradlin almost steals the show with a greasy blues-rock shuffle and break. "Indigo Sunset," the first duet between the headliners -- is kicked off by Carter's soulful country contralto. She frames the lyric's haunted loneliness while Mellencamp's grainy rasp -- framed by B-3, mandolin, fiddle, and guitars -- balances perfectly to bring it home. "All Night Talk Radio" is classic Mellencamp: Its dark vision is painted in compelling, ironic, and dark imagery packaged as in a taut, acoustic rocker. Morally, he should share the royalties for "You Are Blind" with Leonard Cohen's estate: A careful listen reveals that the strategic manner of stacking images and metaphors to draw out the last syllables bears the unmistakable imprint of the late songwriter's classic "Suzanne." Carter's soaring lead opening the duet of the rocking blues-gospel of "Damascus Road" is another set highlight. That theme also guides "My Soul's Got Wings," with Mellencamp's melody and chart accompanying a Woody Guthrie lyric -- Carter's command of the country church vernacular (after all, she sang with her mom in the Carter Family) lights the fuse for Mellencamp -- no stranger himself to rural Sunday services -- and he brings it home. While the words in closer "An Easy Target" rank among Mellencamp's most politically charged and socially arresting, his faux Tom Waits' delivery blunts the tune’s impact a bit, but it's too powerful to be completely buried under a stylistic mistake. While Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is a bit of a mixed bag, it's better than all of his other records that bear that mark (Dance Naked, Whenever We Wanted, Rough Harvest, et. al). It puts all his strengths -- excellent original songs, unforced arrangements, and (mostly) inspired performances -- on full display. Well, almost. Because Carter's dynamic presence here, and the pair's unmistakable chemistry, lift this album above the ordinary. ~ Thom Jurek
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Pop/Rock - Released September 4, 1998 | Columbia

Although Mercury Records had delivered five consecutive platinum albums for John Mellencamp, he left the label in 1997, complaining about its inability to break hit singles for him anymore, and signed to Columbia Records. His self-titled label debut, issued the day before his 47th birthday, seemed intended to mark a new beginning for an artist who had managed more than one career rebirth. Commercially, it did not fulfill that ambition, becoming his worst seller in 19 years. Artistically, it represented not so much a new Mellencamp as another Mellencamp album. The musical style remained firmly rooted in 1966 pop/rock (you had to figure the man's personal jukebox included songs like Los Bravos' "Black Is Black," Donovan's "Sunshine Superman," and the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown"), despite a few interludes of unusual instrumentation (like what Brian Jones used to bring to the Stones). Lyrically, Mellencamp continued to preach an unearned pessimism that he seemed to hope would be mistaken for thoughtfulness. Still obsessed with being taken seriously, he continued to think that the best way to achieve that was to sound serious, and he did, on Biblical treatises like "Fruit Trader" and "Eden Is Burning" and simple-minded philosophical statements like "Your Life Is Now." But the album's best material was found in songs he probably thought of as throwaways, the catchy Caribbean rhythm number "I'm Not Running Anymore" (which could have been a hit single) and the best of the romantic tunes, "Miss Missy," songs that were actually about something. If he really wanted to reinvent himself again (and ignite his record sales), he would have been better advised to invest his music with more of this sense of fun -- dare we say it? -- to put a little Johnny Cougar back into John Mellencamp. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Island Def Jam

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Rock - Released July 8, 2014 | Island Def Jam

John Mellencamp supported the June 2013 release of his blues and folk covers album Trouble No More by performing almost the entire thing, plus a few additional tunes, at New York's Town Hall on July 31, 2003. Eleven years later came the official release of Performs Trouble No More: Live at Town Hall, a literal title that explains exactly what this album has to offer. Mellencamp performs 11 of the 12 songs from Trouble No More, substituting Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" for Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World," then revisiting his own catalog for the close of the show, singing "Paper in Fire" and "Pink Houses," while turning "Small Town" into something resembling a moody swamp blues crawl (another change is an offhand quip by Mellencamp, who mentions that his wife was just 13 years old when he wrote the song). After this revision, "Small Town" suits the vibe of Trouble No More, a roots record where Mellencamp went out of his way to draw a connection between Robert Johnson, Son House, Willie Dixon, and Woody Guthrie and his own work. In the studio, the results were pretty lively but on-stage they're a bit ragged and brawnier -- not a great difference but just enough to make this live collection distinct from his studio counterpart and worthwhile listening in its own right. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 1979 | Island Def Jam

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Rock - Released October 19, 2004 | Island Def Jam

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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Mellencamp Our Country

What does John Mellencamp have to do to get a break? Sure, we can get on him for the Chevy commercial, but the song's great. Yet something has been lacking in Mellencamp efforts since the days of Dance Naked and his self-titled Columbia record -- in other words, everything since Human Wheels (which never got a fair hearing). Artists get to experiment, and willingly populist artists -- which he most certainly is -- can get trapped. He tried to bring his audience along to where he was musically, but seemingly never solidified that place himself. Which brings us to Freedom's Road. This set is perhaps the darker side of Lonesome Jubilee, and takes the small-town vision of Scarecrow and Big Daddy and fans it out. The music is a rootsy, excellent blend of electric and acoustic guitars, fiddle, big fat drums, and lots of space. The other musical difference is the help of country superstar quartet Little Big Town (who really are to their genre what Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac was to rock and pop -- and look to cross over to that side, too) on backing vocals throughout. They add a depth of field on cuts like "Someday," with its staggered, layered harmonies, ringing electric guitars, and lost-in-America vision. It's followed by "Ghost Towns Along the Highway." Mellencamp is looking far outside Indiana here, and when he sings "Well, our love keeps on movin'/To the nearest faraway place/I guess no one believes it's/Ghost towns along the highway/Ghost towns along the main highway," a forlorn fiddle glides ragged above the electric six-strings and the drums shuffle to keep up in the void. "The Americans" and "Our Country" (which is here, of course) are the natural extensions of "Little Pink Houses." These are songs of determination, of definition of what it means to be an American from the Midwest in an era when America seems to be losing sight of itself. These two tracks have easily identifiable hooks and refrains, and with those big choruses, one can see the video footage from all across the country rolling by on a TV screen, or feel the vibe out on your neighborhood street, that this is the way it should be: open, honest, willing, and, above all, tolerant. There is no Ugly American syndrome in either of these songs: "If you ever need some help, come and look my way/'Cause I try to be here for everyone/I'm an American/And I respect your point of view...and I wish you good fortune with whatever you do." This is no rallying cry, it's a simply declaration and exhortation to be the citizens of the world this country has always seen itself as (and was seen as by so many) -- at least until 9/11. That this is stated inside rock & roll songs is all the better; it's a great export that has given voice to different world expressions of what that is -- and it certainly beats jingoistic sloganeering. It's not all optimism, however. The collision of spooky old-time folk, country, and blues that meet in rock drenches the title cut with its double-time snare, edgy Rickenbacker guitars, funky middle-eight bass break, and infectious group chorus. Mellencamp sings it straight: he doesn't have to shout or growl: "Sometimes there'll be rape/Sometimes there's murder/Sometimes there's darkness everywhere.../There's information, but no one cares.../Freedom's road can get narrow.../If you're looking for the devil/He's out there, on freedom's road." And moving forward a track he digs for accountability in "Jim Crow," with Joan Baez on duet vocals. With a spooky string section echoing in the background, a lone electric, and layered acoustics, he sings "Look what Jim Crow's done/Gone and changed his name/Don't know what he's calling himself these days/But he's still acting the same," and Baez counters "You can call it what you want/But it's still a minstrel show." The guitars get angrier, rising as do the strings countering them; it's a cut full of drama, shame, and an indictment to repentance with the blind weight of the history of America's injustice to its own. When "Our Country" follows, it's a statement of not just rights and dreams, but responsibilities. The TV commercial makes the track seem more romantic than it is. In Mellencamp's view, just because the power game has shifted the dialogue toward protectionism and paranoia, it doesn't change the vision that -- most of -- America's populace wants to be what we have always said we were. In other words, we owe that not only to ourselves, but to the world. That it's the best hook Mellencamp has written in ages underscores this fact. Is it overly optimistic and idealistic? Maybe, but perhaps in the face of all the frightening ambiguity that comes from actually becoming the melting pot of the world -- we have now realized our collective ideal -- we need to restate the obvious because it's been covered over by insularity and darkness. All of this in a mainstream rock & roll album? You bet. It's got it all: pleasure, desire, jeremiads, love, disillusionment, big drums, rollicking guitars, and above all an accessible kind of passion. The scorcher that intersects American music at the crossroads of Johnny Rivers, J.B. Lenoir, Gene Vincent, the Staple Singers, and Mellencamp's own "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." is the closer, "Heaven Is a Lonely Place." The track actually ends at 4:30, and after a little over three minutes of silence, there's a tough surprise that lasts until the 12-minute mark. Freedom's Road is not merely a new (or another) John Mellencamp album, but the work of a populist artist at his very best; he's spinning his heart-worn, ragged roots rock tomes about struggle, determination, and the possibility of redemption. He's not promising anything like a foregone conclusion at this point, but it's there if we want it bad enough. Song-wise, this is a stronger album from Mellencamp than we had any right to expect, and an excellent from-the-cradle album when we need it most. ~ Thom Jurek
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Def Jam West

When John Mellencamp left Mercury Records for Columbia in 1997, he owed his longtime label two more albums -- one was a hits collection (The Best That I Could Do), the other was Rough Harvest. Not quite a rarities collection, not quite a live album, Rough Harvest offers a selection of acoustic arrangements of Mellencamp's personal favorites (which happen to lean toward album tracks from the '90s), plus several covers recorded live at his studio, Belmont Mall, in 1997. On paper, this may seem like it's nothing more than a toss-off, just a way to fulfill contractual obligations, but it doesn't play that way. There's a warm feeling to the performances -- a nice, loose, off-the-cuff feeling that enhances the emotions in these low-key, subtly crafted songs. The newer songs benefit from this setting, as do familiar hits like "Rain on the Scarecrow" and "Jackie Brown" and the covers of "In My Time of Dying," "Farewell Angelina," "Under the Boardwalk," and "Wild Night." This may be a gentle difference that only devoted fans will notice, but that's who this album was made for, and they'll undoubtedly enjoy this intimate record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Island Def Jam

One year after John Cougar's "I Need a Lover" gave him his first hit single, Cougar released Nothin' Matters and What if It Did, an album which began to unravel his fondness for small-town simplicity and the pride that is inherited from being brought up in America's heartland. Each song from the album characterizes Cougar's non-threatening, rebellious farm-boy attitude, from the Springsteen-like overtones of "Wild Angel" to the pleading gentleness of "Don't Misunderstand Me." "This Time," carried through with its jubilant, bouncy pace and countrified vocal style, hit number 27 in 1980, with the sultry yet rustic innocence of "Ain't Even Done With the Night" climbing ten spots higher as the album's second single. A good feel for Cougar's passive yet warm approach to rock & roll can be found on Nothin' Matters, even within the lyrics of minor efforts like "Hot Night in a Cold Town" or "To M.G." Following this album was his monumental American Fool release, a solid package for Cougar and one that Nothin' Matters played the prototype for. ~ Mike DeGagne
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Pop/Rock - Released October 16, 2001 | Columbia

John Mellencamp is nearly the Rodney Dangerfield of rock & roll, getting no respect no matter how much he may deserve it. Throughout the '90s, Mellencamp essentially worked away from the spotlight, crafting a series of solid records without anyone paying attention. He had the occasional hit -- a cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night," the subtly insistent "Key West Intermizzo (I Saw You First)" -- but he was no longer part of the rock critic discourse the way he was in the '80s with Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee. Such neglect actually helped Mellencamp grow, as his 2001 effort, Cuttin' Heads, proves. This may not be a record that brings chart success, or even critical acclaim, but it does find Mellencamp at a kind of peak, turning out vividly socially conscious roots rock that works not because of the message, but because the music is seductive and sinewy enough to deliver the message. The grooves and riffs are earthy, so much so that when Chuck D drops a rap at the bridge in the title track, it seems natural, not forced; similarly, India.Arie's presence on "Peaceful World" enhances the plea for understanding at the core of the album, instead of distracting from it, and it feels as right as Trisha Yearwood's duet on "Deep Blue Heart." Ultimately, this is a record of small, subtle triumphs, but they are triumphs all the same, finding Mellencamp crafting music that's earthy yet succeeds because of the small details. It's a laid-back record -- even when it rocks hard, it rocks like a bunch of guys having fun on a back porch on a Saturday afternoon -- but that's its charm, since it's natural, real, and unassuming: in short, the kind of record Mellencamp's been trying to make since he shed the Johnny Cougar tag. No, there aren't songs as undeniable as "Lonely Ol' Night" or "Rumble Seat," but there are no slow stretches and it's a true testament to his talents as a craftsman, which is more than enough. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Island Def Jam

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John Mellencamp in the magazine
  • Other People's Stuff
    Other People's Stuff We’ve known all along that John Mellencamp is no poor man’s Bruce Springsteen, as haters have claimed for years.