Blogcritics Magazine Life, Death, Love and Freedom Album Review
07.05.2008 - Check out T. Michael Testiís review of Johnís new album.
Music Review: John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love, and Freedom
Written by T. Michael Testi
Published July 05, 2008
Life, Death, Love, and Freedom is John Mellencamp's 20th album and due to be
release on July 15th. It was described by Mike Wanchic, Mellencamp's long-time
guitar player as "...very, very, very, organic." In March 2008 Mellencamp told
the Bloomington Herald-Times the album is "The best record I've ever made." As
of the writing of this article, Mellencamp is on a four-week tour of the U.S.A.,
promoting Life, Death, Love, and Freedom.
Life, Death, Love, and Freedom was produced by the Grammy winning songwriter,
musician, and producer, T Bone Burnett. His discography covers 14 personal
albums, with songs that have been covered by the likes of k.d. lang, Los Lobos,
Warren Zevon, Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, and more. It is Burnett's moody,
almost under produced technique that gives Life, Death, Love, and Freedom its
down home feel. The same American roots sound that made his Grammy winning "O
Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack so recognizable and work so well.
I can't say that Life, Death, Love, and Freedom is a totally different sound for
Mellencamp, but it is a different sound. More depth, more feel, more deep down
roots to it that keep digging deeper the more you listen. It has a bluesy,
country feel to it that is somewhere between Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson.
In the past you have had the fun Mellencamp and the serious Mellencamp and this
is definitely much more of the latter. There are no bright catchy tunes or
anthems that will rally the troops. These are much more thoughtful,
retrospective, moody songs. Yet at the same time, the tunes will catch you in
their own way.
There are some songs, like the distorted sounding "If I Die Sudden" and "Don't
Need This Body", which will haunt your mind long after the last waves blend into
the atmosphere. There are tracks that have that Mellencamp slow-song feel like
"Longest Days," "Mean," and "Troubled Land", that leave you feeling some of the
darkness that Mellencamp seems to feel.
There are some that seem to work on their own like "Young Without Lovers," "John
Cockers," and "Without a Shot." And there are some that work as plain music like
"My Sweet Love", that has the Buddy Holly and the Crickets feel, with a big
timpani drums sound and simple guitar work flowing in and out; as well as "A
Ride Back Home" with a simple plea to Jesus to help him find his way, which is
underscored by vocals and harmonies.
Where would we be without a little political statement from Mellencamp, and
there are a lot spread throughout this album. He has always been able to pull
off the political song, and by avoiding using contemporary names, he allows it
to fit in for generations to come. He is probably the best at this since Dylan;
certainly better than anyone in the last 30 years.
Take for example Mellencamp's recent request to the Republican candidate John
McCain, to stop using his songs for the McCain political campaign. One of the
songs in question was his 1983 hit "Pink Houses," a song that was a slap to the
Republican President, and party in general, at the time.
The real political song on this album is the one called "Jena" which rallies
around the racially charged Jena Six trial in Louisiana ó in which six black
teenagers were charged with the beating of white student Justin Barker at Jena
While like any album, there are some songs I like better than others, all stand
on their own. I think the darkness of Life, Death, Love, and Freedom, may not
play for everyone, and certainly not for every mood. I do feel that that this is
John Mellencamp's best album in a decade, and perhaps over time, will prove to
be one of the better records that he has given us. When you want that slow moody
Mellencamp sound, I highly recommend Life, Death, Love, and Freedom.
Song list for Life, Death, Love, and Freedom.
Longest Days - 3:11
My Sweet Love - 3:27
If I Die Sudden - 3:45
Troubled Land - 3:23
Young Without Lovers - 2:49
John Cockers - 3:51
Don't Need This Body - 3:26
A Ride Back Home - 3:12
Without A Shot - 3:40
Jena - 3:41
Mean - 2:34
County Fair - 3:41
For The Children - 4:36
A Brand New Song - 3:58