Concord Voices Magazine: Life, Death, Love And Freedom Review

This Is Your Life - By David Vienna

John Mellencamp made his career on straight-up rockers peppered with good, old fashioned political statements, although with a strictly Midwestern flavor. On Life, Death, Love and Freedom, the sound learns more toward gritty southern blues, with hints of gospel organ on songs like “Troubled Land” and bluegrass fiddle on tracks such as “John Cockers.” Produced by T. Bone Burnett, the man behind the wildly successful soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the album utilizes the XOΔE (CODE) system, which creates high-definition audio, nearly identical to the sound on the original master tapes.

The blind hope in Mellencamp’s previous hits is replaced with a mature, road-weary nostalgia. In the duet “A Ride Back Home,” he sings of being beaten down after a life of fighting for what he thinks is right. Despite the regret expressed in the songs, this is not a sad album. The entire collection has the feel of a great blues album, in which the artist takes pain and makes it beautiful. And Mellencamp still included some songs of protest. “Jena,” his song about the reaction to the Jena Six, which was released early as a free singe on iTunes, garnered him hate mail and death threats. So, even as he grows up, he’s still living by the rock ‘n’ roll mantra: If you ain’t pissing them off, you’re doing it wrong.

At one stop on the tour in support of the album, Mellencamp presented few songs solo, just him and his acoustic. One of these was the new cut “Young Without Lovers.” He invited the audience to sing along with the chorus: “Young without lovers / Old without friends.” Defying the sentiment of the lyrics, he said, “If we all sing, we can’t be alone.”
Mellencamp has characterized the album as a collection of “modern electric folk songs,” With backing from his legendary touring band, the album’s 14 tracks were recorded at his studio in Bloomington, Indiana and mixed in Los Angeles with T-Bone Burnett behind the boards for all of the sessions. Mellencamp cites Burnett’s production as key to “finding the soul of each song.” As far as signing to Hear Music is concerned, he noted, “In today’s business environment, each artist needs to pursue his own path and determine what works best. For me, Hear is the right way to go for this album. I’m glad to be working with a team of open minded people who seem to be interested in what the music is about and what it sounds like.”