There are few musicians that can hold their own in comparison to greats such as Tom Waits or Johnny Cash, but on his; staggering, TWENTY THIRD album, John Mellencamp is cementing himself as a legend. Having released his debut in 1976, it is awe inspiring to hear this latest offering.
Mobile Blue sets the country and blues bar high with Mellencamp’s Indiana drawl taking centre stage. Mellencamp truly has lived a life, a theme prevalent throughout Sad Girls & Hillbillies. Whisky ages well over time, and so does John, the stories he has and the paths he has trodden can be heard with every slam of his guitar or shake of his tambourine.
Throughout Sad Clowns... are appearances from the wonderful Carlene Carter, whose sweet-like-honey country tones are the perfect accompaniment to the slightly rough around the edges lead of Mellencamp. On Indigo Sunset, the sound of the two working together is a harmonious meeting of the minds. They talk of closing eyes and watching the sun set on the other, true and pure romance in it’s simplest form.
There is a hoarseness to What Kind Of Man Am I, that recalls the epic Hurt from Johnny Cash; a similarity that runs throughout Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. The fire and rage of the inner turmoil raging here is rousing – stirring the emotions that run deeply inside.
John Mellencamp has a spirit so rustic, this record may as well have been recorded on the back of a tractor. Sugar Hill Mountain may as well have been recorded on a tractor in a barn during a barn dance – it’s that country. It’s twee and sweet just like the title suggests, and perhaps a little too tongue-in-cheek to get fully on board with.
As the final few songs begin to play, John Mellencamp’s youthful energy has still yet to falter. Even at the age of 65, John still has girls on his mind during Sad Clowns. He’s an old sweetheart is John Mellencamp, acknowledging that despite his age, all the lovely ladies better still have him in their thoughts.
My Soul’s Got Wings and Easy Target continue the light and dark alternation of the album. Easy Target is more of a drawer, as Mellencamp addresses racial tensions of all kinds. The result is a hard-hitting listen that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least Mellencamp retains his honest integrity as a songwriter even if his views are somewhat problematically presented here.
There is a lot of life left in this old dog yet, with John Mellencamp continuing to make the country and blues he knows and loves for his legions of adoring fans. Whilst such a genre may be considered an acquired taste for most, there are sure to be no regrets for hitting play on this subtle masterpiece.