Chicago's Lumino Magazine Album Review

Mellencamp Talks Truth From The Heart on New Disc

3.5 out of 4 Stars
Written by MATTHEW LAMBERT - Wednesday, 27 August 2008

With John Mellencamp’s latest release, Life Death Love and Freedom, we are introduced to yet another album reflecting the current state of our country as well as topics dealing with mortality, war, love and freedom. Mellencamp has taken a turn from the pop-like Freedom’s Road (2007) and created an album that often feels gloomy and bleak. The album is dominated by a folk-like sound, Mellencamp’s vocals and the strum of the guitar stand out amongst most of the tracks. Producer T. Bone Burnett provides instrumentation throughout the album, along with Andy York (guitars) Miriam Sturm (fiddle) Troye Kennett (keyboards) Dane Clark (drums) and John Gurnell (bass).

On the opener Longest Days, Mellencamp stars with rather ominous lyrics. “It seems like once upon a time ago/I was where I was supposed to be/My vision was true and my heart was too /There was no end to what I could dream /I walked like a hero into the setting sun /Everyone called out my name /Death to me was just a mystery /I was too busy raisin up Cain.” Pretty heavy stuff right off the bat, and Mellencamp maintains the feel for most of the album.

On Don’t Need This Body, a bluesy track with Mellencamp reflecting on his life. “Well all my friends are sick or dying/And I'm here all by myself/All I got left is a head full of memories/And a thought of my upcoming death.”

On Jena, the topic focus on the Jena Six controversy in Louisiana last year. The song itself has generated some controversy, with Jena’s mayor Murphy R. McMillin speaking out in protest to the song. In it Mellencamp sings, “So what becomes of boys that cannot think straightParticularly those with paper bag skinYes sir, no sir, we'll wipe that smile right off your faceWe've got our rules here and you must fit in” Mellencamp seems to be speaking against racism though, something the mayor may have missed.

On the last track, For the Children, we are given the theme of acceptance. Mellencamp seems to say be thankful for what we have, and not to hold a grudge for what has or hasn’t happen in life. This is one of the best tracks on the album, Karen Fairchild provides back-up vocals and helps create a rich harmony with Mellencamp. Andy York provides a simple strumming of the guitar which makes this track all the more enjoyable.

It’s no surprise that after more than thirty years, John Mellencamp can create and write songs with the best of them. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, it shouldn’t be a surprise to expect quality material from an artist of his stature. Even for people who have never really followed his music, he creates tracks which are rich and easy to enjoy. He creates a solid album with Life Death Love and Freedom. While The 14-track album maintains a theme of darkness throughout, the instrumental layers and harmonies along with Mellencamp’s lyrics make it quite enjoyable.
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