“Other People’s Stuff” is the latest effort from John Mellencamp and aptly describes the collection of reworked arrangements previously released during the talented singer-songwriter’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career.
The 10 tracks containing various country, folk and blues stylings are infused with Mellencamp’s own personal heartland sound.
The set opens with “To the River” from 1993’s “Human Wheels” as Mellencamp addresses the complexities of navigating a turbulent world by declaring, “I have hated and I have Loved/I have prayed and I have sinned.” It’s a powerful message about the experiences that help to shape our character and understanding who we are and where we are going.
Originally performed for President Obama at the White House in 2010, “Eyes on the Prize” is delivered in a raw and bluesy manner as it serves as a stirring anthem about standing up against social injustice as Mellencamp sings, “Only chains that we can stand/Are the chains of hand and hand/Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on.“
Other highlights include the heartbreak relayed on “Teardrops Will Fall,” a smoldering cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Gambling Bar Room Blues,” a Dylanesque offering of the folk classic “Wreck of the Old 97,” the engaging storytelling of “Dark as a Dungeon” and the infectious blending of funk and blues on “Stones in My Passway."
My personal favorite is “In My Time of Dying” from 1999’s “Rough Harvest.”
On this haunting track, Mellencamp comes to terms with his mortality as he cries out, “In my time of dying/I want nobody to mourn/All I want for you to do is take my body home.“
Mellencamp closes the album with a soulful performance of Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why I Love You.” It’s a wonderful number that plays well to the Indiana native’s gritty and genuine vocals.
Although these arrangements aren’t new, hearing them together during one sitting makes for a refreshing and more impactful listening experience.
In the end, Mellencamp manages to borrow other people’s stuff and make it uniquely his own.