Boston Globe - In A Serious State Of Mind

ESSENTIAL "A Ride Back Home"

Fresh from induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the plainspoken poet of the heartland continues to prove why he deserves that honor. Whether it's an impeccable turn of phrase or mesmerizing melody, Mellencamp finds plenty of inspiration on this glorious and haunting effort, produced with typically idiosyncratic skill by T Bone Burnett.

Eschewing any concept of "radio ready" and singing with a gruff immediacy, Mellencamp tackles all of the titular concepts on this folk- and blues-based material with a sense of liberation that is keenly palpable. Death, especially, is a popular topic. Mellencamp, 56, approaches it with calm contemplation on the meditative "Longest Days." He prepares for it with curmudgeonly attitude and gratitude on the dark, rumbling "If I Die Sudden" and even longs for it on "A Ride Back Home," in which Jesus serves as kind of a bouncer and celestial taxi service to the pearly gates.

Mostly written in two weeks and recorded in about the same amount of time, these vivid stories tell of people in various stages of living and dying who have learned a thing or two worth passing on. The album also comes with a DVD version, the first release in a new high-quality audio format called CODE, created by Burnett and a team of engineers. It indeed sounds warmer and more present than its CD counterpart. [Sarah Rodman]

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