Rick Galusha's Pacific St. Blues and Americana

Since inception (1989), Pacific St. Blues & Americana strives to be a discerning voice helping roots fans sift through the mountains of music released every year. We are not for everyone; we want to engage active, critical listeners that hear beyond d'jour. Interviews include: Johnny Winter, Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jerry Wexler, Tommy Shannon & Chris Layton, B.B. King, Dr. John, Robin Trower, Robben Ford, Mato Nanji, Joe Bonamassa, Harry Manx, Sue Foley, Marshall Chess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Louvin, Kim Richey, Radney Foster, Eric Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Al Kooper, Phil Chen (Wired, Blow By Blow), Ian McLagan, Art Neville, Southside Johnny, Miami Steve Van Zant, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Iglauer, Charlie Musselwhite, Studebaker John, Chris Duarte, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Hamilton Loomis, Peter Karp, Roomful of Blues, James Harman, Hadden Sayers, Malford Milligan, Melvin Taylor, Otis Taylor, Dave Alvin, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Marsha Ball, Maria Muldaur, Shelby Lynne, Magic Dick & J. Geils, Lil' Milton, BuddyGuy, Aynsley Lister, Matt Schofield, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, James Cotton, Robin & Jesse Davey, Hugh Coltman (Hoax), Sean Kelly (Samples), John Entwistle (The Who), Mark Olson (Jayhawks), Walter Wolfman Washington, Anthony Gomes, Bob Malone, Chubby Carrier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Murali Coryell, David Jacob Strain, DeAnna Bogart, Michael Lee Firkins, Guy Davis, Jason Ricci, John Doe, Little Feat, Matt Woods, MikeZito, Peter Buffett, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Corky Siegel, Todd Park Mohr, Watermelon Slim, Magic Slim, Corey Harris,- - - - - - ------------------------Radio archives: http://www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com/. Playlists: http://www.omahablues.com/ Reviews featured in http://www.blueswax.com/. Email: KIWRblues@gmail.com Live online; Sundays 9 a.m. (-6 GMT) http://www.897theriver.com/

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Album Review: John Mellencamp 'Life, Death, Love and Freedom'

Artist: John Mellencamp

Title: Life, Death, Love and Freedom

Writer: Rick Galusha

It’s a human trait to dwell on mortality: it’s where religion is rooted. Since recorded history began musicians have released recordings of this pondering; perhaps none so much as those of the roots genres including blues. However, like political criticism, it is an easily fumbled message and few can carry the torch beyond one, maybe two songs in the span of a career.

After finding commercial success early in his career John Mellencamp dropped the ‘Cougar’ moniker and began to turn his music-making towards a more roots based sound. While musically snobby 40 something’s may have written off Bloomington’s sage as “a hack” long ago, in 1985 Mellencamp released an album, ‘Scarecrow’ which lent a Midwestern credibility to the cultural landscape that heretofore had been rooted on coastal seaboards. Bruce Springsteen made New Jersey a state with romantic ballets in the streets: Mellencamp sang of farm foreclosures, national pride and growing up in 50’s seeing life from a ‘rumbleseat.’ Suddenly the lure of the living within spitting distance of Los Angles and New York City was not as bright as it had been and, finally, being from the Midwest, and its small town manners, was kinda cool.

When Mellencamp fully embraced a ‘roots’ sound to his music is debatable; however, by the 1993 album, ‘Human Wheels’ it was clear that writing hits was off the agenda. Although the title track was radio friendly, the voice of the album spoke of deeper thoughts and the music took on a rawer edge. Radio and retail no longer asked what had happened to John, we all knew, he’d pulled a Neil Young and chose art over commerce… finally put the finishing fork in the pop star, “Johnny Cougar.” Casting aside any lingering fears, Mellencamp ventured into liberal activism, whether political or social (ala’ founding Farm Aid along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson), Mellencamp’s new personification, ‘Lil’ Bastard’ had taken over.

With the release of his latest album, ‘Life, Death, Love and Freedom’ (LDLF) Mellencamp fully realizes this transition with, perhaps, his strongest artistic statement to date. At first glance the album is full of morbidity: apparently the ‘Lil’Bastard’ is afraid of something. LDLF is a 14 track testament to one man’s midlife reconciliations. The opening track, ‘Longest Days’ sets the tone as the Mellencamp sings,

“So you pretend not to notice,
That everything has changed,
The way you look,
And the friends you once had.
So you keep on acting the same,
But deep down in your soul,
You know you got no flame.
And who knows then which way to go?
Life is short even in its longest days.’

It has been a long time since a lyric resonated as when he sings,

‘Sometimes you get sick,
And you don’t get better,
That’s when life is short,
Even in its longest days.’

While the subject matter is heavy, and the music is compelling, Mellencamp’s latest effort is the finest full length album from one of Classic Rock’s pantheon. While other’s struggle to find a new voice that fits with their aging bodies, Mellencamp saddles up and bangs away with a album that shows, finally, that aging and music can remain symbiotic. It is as if the age-old struggle between Jagger and Richards has finally been settled; you can be “great” and release exceptional music even though “midlife” is now in the rear-view mirror.

Not one to miss an opportunity, Mellencamp hoists up the social commentary albeit using a thinly veiled analogy in the song, ‘Without a Shot.’ He takes a swipe at false nationalism.

“We open our eyes at midnight,
Seeing the setting of the sun.
Foundation are crumbling; The inner structure’s gone;
Used up by corruption,
And the passage of time.
We hope we got some fight left,
Cause our children, our children are dying.”

Within the same tune he rails against false piety with resonation.

“So we think that forgiveness,
Is a God given right.
And equality for all,
Is just a waste of time.
With our nickel-plated Jesus,
Chained around our necks;
Handing out versus of scripture,
Like we wrote it down ourselves.”

A compact disc is the equivalent of a double album set. Over the past 50 years you can probably count, now on two hands, the number of studio-recorded-rock-double-albums that maintain a high level of quality throughout ( Exile on Main Street, Quadrophenia, Electric Ladyland, London Calling, Blonde on Blonde are a few). I readily suggest that, ‘Life, Death’ Love and Freedom’ be added that select group of records. ‘Life, Death, Love and Freedom’ is a thinking man’s roots album that is rich in textures with carefully crafted songs and arrangements; it is a brilliant musical statement…albeit by a “hack” from Indiana.

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