Americana Highways Review John Mellencamp Orpheus Descending

Americana Highways by John Apice

John is the oldest by a year & well, Vladimir & I were born on the exact same day, month & year. But Vlad can’t sing.

I prefer to follow John Mellencamp. As a songwriter, I always thought John Mellencamp’s rural showcase was to Bruce Springsteen’s factory worker’s plight. They complimented each other. Today, John’s seems to be better balanced than the overreaching Bruce.

So far, John hasn’t compromised his audience as Bruce & Neil Young have. They forgot that they’re entertainers first. I still listen to Bruce & Neil since they’re good musicians & write good songs. But Mellencamp – he has a classier tolerable approach.

Indiana’s John Mellencamp looks & sounds more now like Guy Clark & J.J. Cale. His genuine raggedness transcends the showboat stagecraft. No gloss, no sugar-coated BS, no pontificating (so far). John tries to keep it diplomatic.

This new 11-cut CD was produced by John at his Belmont Mall Studio. A set that’s personal & addresses some social issues but not with much finger-pointing or vinegar. Just a slow cruise through some challenges.

This, his 25th studio LP Orpheus Descending (Drops June 16–Republic Records) finds John exploring senseless gun violence, an encounter with a homeless woman & empty condolences that reek of cliché.

John always has good instincts & his repertoire has significance through songs that fortify his message without an abundance of preachy aspects. He addresses taunt subjects with expressive honesty. I may not agree with it all, but John is worth a listen. I like him.

“Lightning & Luck,” is poignant with gentle acoustic guitars, piano, fiddle & John’s gruff yet warm vocal. The lyrics are the heaviest part of the song. He isn’t an entertainer per se, but his program is entertaining. He’s more of a troubadour than a Rod Stewart-type. This CD isn’t chiseled with clever electrifying instrumentation, but it does frame his often-melancholy words tidily & tight.

An impressive entry is “The Eyes of Portland,” – with its punctuating look at the homeless. John’s been fairly diplomatic & I believe he understands an artist shouldn’t compromise their program with political overtures. It can be better discussed in interviews but not in a concert or song. Captive audiences get angry. Seats need to be filled or an artist risks losing a percentage of a ticket-buying audience. Bruce & Neil Young are familiar – though they probably don’t care. 

Orpheus Descending is one of John’s best.

Highlights – “Lightning & Luck,” “Perfect World,” “One More Trick,” “Understated Reve