The Washington Post: Sure, John Mellencamp’s Voice Has Aged, But Tt Suits His 23rd Album Perfectly

Once upon a time, John Mellencamp turned heartland roots-rock into pop radio gold. Although he’s no longer cultivating hits, such as “Jack & Diane” and “Small Town” from his ’80s heyday, Mellencamp, now 65, is still a master of unearthing sincere universal sentiments through gritty populist song craft. His 23rd album, “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” released in April, is billed as “John Mellencamp featuring Carlene Carter,” and throughout the record, the Indiana tunesmith collaborates gracefully with the daughter of June Carter Cash.

Mellencamp’s tobacco­seasoned voice has noticeably aged, but the wear and tear fits his latest effort’s rustic, vintage country presentation. In “Battle of Angels,” a dusty acoustic gallop is colored by fluttery mandolin fills and pastoral fiddle accents, while Mellencamp and Carter harmonize like a blend of whiskey and honey. Rock isn’t completely abandoned, though; “Grandview” has some of Mellencamp’s familiar rural swagger, and it’s bolstered by a guitar assist from ex-Guns N’ Roses member Izzy Stradlin.

Mellencamp long preferred the intimacy of indoor theaters, where crowds are more attentive, but was persuaded to embark this summer on a rare tour of outdoor amphitheaters in support of his new record. On the cross-country jaunt, he’s being joined by Carter, as well as songstress Emmylou Harris, who’s been an influential part of the folk and country landscape for more than four decades.