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AXS.com: John Mellencamp Sings Sincerely On Plain Spoken
02.23.2015 - By: Dan MacIntosh - AXS.com

When you hear the unfiltered roughness in John Mellencamp's voice during “The Isolation,” you're quickly aware that this popular roots rock singer from Indiana wasn't kidding when he titled his new album, Plain Spoken. With its added wheezy harmonica solo, Mellencamp gives this song a truly Dylan-esque sincerity. It comes off a lot like recent Dylan music, where the man has become quite the self-reflective one.

Mellencamp has come a long way from the young man that famously sang about young love/lust with “Jack & Diane” back in the '80s. These new songs seem worlds away from the the man's more beat-driven American music from back in the day. This is Mellencamp looking deeply into his soul, and sometimes not really liking what he sees.

“Troubled Man,” kicks off the album with a confessional song that expresses Mellencamp's worried soul. You'd expect a man that's had his kind of critical and commercial success would be so much more happy go lucky, without a care in the world. However, Mellencamp is too wise to believe that superficial factors can ever make a inwardly pained individual truly satisfied.

With “Sometimes There's God,” Mellencamp can be heard trying to come to grips with his personal theology. It suggests that sometimes we find God in the midst of our most emotional experiences, but sometimes we just don't feel His presence there.

“Tears in Vain” features one of the album's most sonically complicated arrangements, including some really fine, twang-y electric guitar. However, the track's instrumentation cannot mask Mellencamp's sadness as its lyric comes face to face with his recent divorce from Elaine Irwin, with whom he was married for 18 years.

Mellencamp reveals his political side with “Freedom.” It's a song that sounds a little like something Pete Seeger might have sung while accompanying himself on the banjo at some political rally or other. Mellencamp sings it backed by acoustic guitar and this song is colored with some lovely fiddle work.

If your image of Mellencamp is that of a kind of musical cheerleader singing about small towns and pink houses, Plain Spoken may be a bit of a revelation. It's far more introspective than much of the artist's music from back during his heyday. Mellencamp will be joined by the delightful Carlene Carter when he appears at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live on June 28. That is a show not to be missed because Plain Spoken finds this artist at the height of his creative powers.
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