USA Today 3.5 Out Of 5 Stars

* * * 1/2 -- Life in the serious lane

Despite the expansive title, there’s no room for Jack and Diane, barn-burning dance tunes or Zippo-raising heartland anthems on this dead-serious Life force, one of Mellencamp’s finest efforts to date. Produced by T Bone Burnett, who helped develop its high-definition CODE audio technology, the album winds down a dark, rootsy path of folk, country and haunting blues borrowed from Robert Johnson. In a twangy rasp, Mellencamp reflects with pessimism and regret, but he’s full of fire and purpose, whether offering scrappy prayer A Ride Back Home, brooding hymn If I Die Sudden or the politically charged Jena, based on racial friction sparked by a noose draped from a tree in Louisiana. This time, Mellencamp’s pink houses come with foreclosure signs. — Edna Gundersen
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