The Alternate Root: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies Review

The Alternate Root

John Mellencamp (from the album Sad Clowns and Hillbillies)

Over the course of a career that has spanned decades, John Mellencamp has delivered the songs in his rock’n’roll heart against an ever-moving landscape of musical styles. He has accepted his fame with dignity, managing his role as rock star with class and keeping the music a part of a fickle Pop culture by recording the way he hears a song as opposed to fitting the tracks into a popular format. That ability to follow a muse rather than running with the pack continues on the most recent release from John Mellencamp, Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The album bears John’s name on the marquee as well as giving well-deserved credit to his partner on Sad Clowns and Hillbillies with the added notation, ‘featuring Carlene Carter’.

John Mellencamp finds his recent album offerings perfectly at home in the Roots music community, a territory he has long cultivated and developed in his own music. Sad Clowns and Hillbillies embraces the benefits offered by Americana as it shifts between melodic moods, saddling up with a Country Folk trot for “Battle of Angels”, taking a seat at the “Early Bird Café” as its jukebox sounds off with a raggedy rock’n’roll Roots, and following the lead of a snaking fiddle riff as to dials in “Late Night Talk Radio”. The rumble of Country chords guides the steps of John Mellencamp and dueling duet partner Martina McBride as they wrestle with living in “Grandview”. The voice of Carlene Carter comes through in the fading lights of “Indigo Sunset”, powerfully attached to the telling of the story as she is throughout much of Sad Clowns and Hillbillies. The burdens of “Damascus Road” are vocally shared with Carlene and John Mellencamp as the pair climb “Sugar Hill Mountain” with a shuffling ramble rhythm, brew a caffeinated bounce to walk a path to glory with “On My Soul’s Wings”, and hush to whispers to discuss “What Kind of Man Am I”. Fiddle, mandolin, and guitar notes play tag with the beat as “Mobile Blue” boards a west coast bus while Sad Clowns and Hillbillies takes pride in the less-than-perfect male dressed up to sashay onto the stage as the “Sad Clown” on a classic country ramble and quiets the musical moods for John Mellencamp to poke at politics on “Easy Target”.