Music & Musicians Reviews On The Rural Route 7609

By Chris Neal

When it comes time for the box-set treatment, most artists are content to line up a few discs' worth of hits and rarities and let 'em fly. John Mellencamp is not like most artists. On the Rural Route 7609 is a four -CD collection that sets out to tell a story all its own, tracing connections among its songs and emphasizing its author's current attitudes and concerns as much as his history. Search all you want for crowd favorites like 'Hurts So Good," "Paper in Fire" and "Wild Night" - they're nowhere to be found. (For those, seek out the terrific 2004 double-disc compilation Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greats Hits.) Some of the hits that do turn up here ("Rain on the Scarecrow," "Authority Song," "Love and Happiness") are in re-recorded or demo versions that steer the spotlight away from the production and onto the songwriting. The assemblage carefully teases out thematic strands; the first disc plunges headlong into the topic of mortality, the second looks outward to social issues, the third offers nuanced character sketches and the fourth delves into matter of the heart. Along the way, the set makes a defiant argument for Mellencamp's often-looked latter-day-work fully half the tracks here were recorded during the last decade. Mellencamp holds forth in a track-by-track commentary in the liner notes inside the elegant packaging, making his own arguments for his creations. On the Rural Route 7609 is as thoughtful, willful and knotty as the man himself.